Adaptive Biotechnologies (NASDAQ:ADPT) has begun a virtual clinical study to map the immune responses of people who have contracted COVID-19 or who are likely to have. Working with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN), and LabCorp (NYSE:LH), the biotech company is collecting blood samples from people in 24 U.S. cities that have been hard hit by the disease.

Currently, there are two types of tests for COVID-19. The first are PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, which reveal whether a person is currently infected. These tests are based on the DNA of the coronavirus, and all researchers need is a nose or throat swab from the patient to run them.

The second type is a serology test: Using a sample of the patient’s blood, this will look for the presence of specific antibodies that are generated by the immune system in response to SARS-CoV-2. Unlike a PCR test, serology tests will reveal people who have recovered from COVID-19 and no longer have active infections.

DNA graphic

Image source: Getty Images

Adaptive Bio is creating an even more specific test that will detect the presence of T cells (white blood cells that bind to and kill infected cells). Then, working with Illumina and Microsoft, the company will use machine learning to map the genomes of all the immune receptors responding to SARS-CoV-2. 

This mapping is similar to what scientists did with the human genome two decades ago. Those scientists had to sequence 30,000 genes, compared to the millions of genes Adaptive is mapping.

The ImmuneRace study will be a real-world test of whether Adaptive Bio can successfully map our immune response to a new and dangerous disease. As of noon Wednesday, the company’s stock was up 1.9%.