Flash Covid-19: reprogramming macrophages to combat the SARS-CoV-2 infection

Research Article published on May 18 2020 , Updated on May 25 2020

Due to the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on health, the French National Research Agency (ANR) has launched “Flash Covid-19” calling for scientific communities to mobilise to combat the disease. Among the projects selected: MacCOV conducted by Jean-Luc Perfettini at the centre for Molecular Radiation and Therapeutic Innovation (RAMO - Université Paris-Saclay, Institut Gustave Roussy, Inserm).

The goal of the MacCOV project is to reprogramme macrophages, certain cells in the immune system, to treat respiratory distress syndromes caused by SARS-CoV-2. Thanks to the expertise of researchers in the field of therapeutic innovation at the RAMO centre, research into a drug to treat the infections has been launched.

Macrophages - a therapeutic target

The RAMO centre’s objective is to understand cancer treatments and to conduct research into innovative therapeutic strategies which may be able to be combined with radiotherapy to increase their effectiveness. To that end, studies into reprogramming macrophages associated with tumours is underway.

These immune cells have an anti-inflammatory effect inside tumours. When reprogrammed to be pro-inflammatory, macrophages promote inflammation which stimulates the immune system and improves the effectiveness of cancer treatment. " On the contrary, for the treatment of infectious diseases like Covid-19, where hyper-inflammation contributes to the disease getting worse, reprogramming macrophages to become anti-inflammatory is positive," explains Jean-Luc Perfettini, MacCOV research project leader. Targeting macrophages for therapeutic purposes has linked expertise into cancer treatment research with research into infectious diseases.

MacCOV aims to identify drugs already used to treat other diseases, then investigate whether they can be used to control macrophages reprogramming so they can be dispensed to patients with SARS-CoV-2. “We have the macrophage expertise and the technology required to manipulate them. We hope to quickly identify drugs and launch clinical trials in the coming months. There are currently very few treatments available to treat infected patients. It is urgent to find drugs to resolve this pandemic," explains Perfettini.

An accepted outlook on therapeutic innovation

This research focus is supported by LabEx LERMIT (Laboratory of Excellence for Research into Medication and Therapeutic Innovative at Université Paris-Saclay). Apart from searching for drugs to combat Covid-19, Jean-Luc Perfettini’s team also aims to develop new drugs against many pathologies where macrophages play a central role in the onset or resolution of the disease. 

"LabEx LERMIT’s support has been essential, enabling us to acquire knowledge about reprogramming macrophages. Thanks to them, we are already looking for drugs that target a recently discovered cell signalling pathway. It may be of therapeutic use in the current crisis. The message is this: research into knowledge and support for therapeutic innovation must be conducted head-on in order to move forward and find treatments quickly. That is what our fellow citizens expect from us...now more than ever,” concludes JL Perfettini.