Leveraging Autoimmune Therapies in Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research

The mRNA approach was first applied to cancer however has since been instrumental in the development of vaccines to protect against the transmission of COVID-19. Since which, science has been postulating other uses for the messenger RNA technology.

In April 2021, Biospace called infectious diseases “low-hanging fruit” for messenger RNA and spoke of the COVID-19 pandemic as driving innovation in the space. However, due to the impact of the pandemic, further attention to the application of autoimmune therapies for the treatment of infectious diseases or manage their symptoms better has been hampered.

In this article, we will look at the application of autoimmune therapies on infectious disease.

Treating COVID-19 with Anti-Rheumatic Therapies

No article on infectious disease treatments that stem from autoimmune therapies would be complete without the mention of the way that anti-rheumatic drugs may play a role in the treatment of COVID-19 (Lucchino, Di Franco, and Conti, 2020). Specifically, the biology SARS-CoV-2 exhibits introduces the possibility of applying rheumatology treatments to the virus. As explained by the researchers: “patients with severe COVID-19 show increased serum IL-6 levels and reduced number of circulating NK cells. Globally, these clinical and serological abnormalities characterize a cytokine release syndrome (CRS)… The development of a CRS has a pivotal role in severe COVID-19.”

“While the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 requires the urgent development of a vaccine,” explains the authors, “this unexpected indication for anti-rheumatic therapies underlines the need to better understand how infectious agents trigger the immune system to produce severe clinical manifestations, especially in the case of pandemics.”

Immune Cell Therapies

Immune cell therapies may provide another avenue for infectious disease treatments. In April 2020, researchers Weber, Maus, and Mackall reviewed the use of cells as therapeutic agents. They looked at T-cell therapies for cancer, the challenges of immune cell therapies in oncology as well as T-cell therapies in Autoimmune Disease and Infectious Disease. In the latter, they considered virus-specific therapies.

Trained Immunity

Trained immunity has received some attention as well. According to researchers Mulder et al (2019), the term “is a de facto immune memory of the innate immune system and involves the epigenetic programming of myeloid lineage cells, which results in changes in their metabolic and phenotypical behavior that enable a stronger immune response to secondary stimuli.” In their research, Mulder et al look at the mechanisms responsible for trained immunity and explore targeted approaches to immune-related diseases as well as cases of defective trained immunity, including many infections.

Immunotherapy Targeting Infectious Diseases

A paper from Kathy Liszewski (2019) looks at the use of immunotherapy in infectious disease, particularly in emerging viruses. She reviewed research that looked at triggering the epithelium of the lungs to effectively kill pathogens and she explored mRNA vaccines – more than a year before COVID-19 hit. Liszewski went on to explain the work of the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Immunotherapeutic Consortium (VIC) and efforts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Vaccine Research Center (VRC) to develop a therapeutic mAb from an Ebola survivor.

Researchers Naran et al (2018) looked at the way infectious pathogens create an environment within the host body that facilitates their spread and explained how therapeutic interventions for infectious diseases could be developed.

Novel Approaches to Infectious Diseases

Novel approaches to infectious diseases may provide hope for future treatments and vaccines that are established in other areas of medicine, particularly those focused on autoimmunity. Researchers are still exploring these adaptions and alternatives.


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Lucchino, B., Di Franco, M., & Conti, F. (2020). COVID-19: an unexpected indication for anti-rheumatic therapies?. Rheumatology (Oxford, England), 59(6), 1200–1203. https://doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/keaa194

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Terry, M. (2021). mRNA Tech Used in COVID-19 Vaccines Could be Used to Cure HIV, Cancer and More. Biospace. https://www.biospace.com/article/mrna-tech-used-in-covid-19-vaccines-could-be-used-to-cure-hiv-cancer-and-other-diseases/

Weber, E. W., Maus, M. V., & Mackall, C. L. (2020). The Emerging Landscape of Immune Cell Therapies. Cell, 181(1), 46–62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2020.03.001

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