COVID-19 Immune Response Study

ISB, Swedish, Merck and many other institutions are working on a collaborative, one-of-a-kind study to follow hundreds of patients who contract COVID-19 to learn why those infected have drastically different outcomes.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease has spread globally since late 2019, resulting in the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic. Common symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. While the majority of cases result in mild symptoms, some patients progress to pneumonia and multi-organ failure. The death rate is estimated at between 1% and 5% but varies by age and other health conditions.

Covid-19 infection illustration

Illustration of the process of infection and immune response in patients. Once a patient is infected with SARS-CoV-2, the body begins creating unique protective molecules that can be studied to understand and treat the disease.

Seattle’s scientific and research community understands the urgency of this pandemic. It has embraced collaboration for the greater good, shared research findings to expedite knowledge and the development of therapies and vaccines, and has risen to the mission of using all of its knowledge and tools to better understand, and ultimately overcome, this challenge.

ISB scientists were quick to tap into their research and medical networks to form collaborations to study the disease. In March, Dr. Jim Heath, president of ISB and Dr. Jason Goldman, an infectious disease physician at Swedish were the first to put their heads together to design a study that is now underway. In April, Merck and ISB announced a research collaboration that includes vital funding for the study. A full list of collaborative partners and funders is below.

“Each of the COVID-19 patients has a unique lesson to teach us about how the medical and scientific community can respond most effectively to this pandemic”

said ISB President Dr. Jim Heath, who is co-leading the study alongside Dr. Jason Goldman, an infectious disease physician at Swedish.

A patient in the Covid-19 study will contribute blood samples at three points throughout their infection — initial presentation, acute illness and convalescence. Each of these samples will be stored in an anonymized biorepository and analzyed to generate multi-omic data.

A patient in the study will contribute blood samples at three points throughout their infection — initial presentation, acute illness and convalescence. Each of these samples will be stored in an anonymized biorepository and analzyed to generate multi-omic data.

We aim to identify the best strategy for a protective vaccine, and identify the best strategy for treating patients who are already infected.

The purpose of this study is to create a biorepository of blood samples to investigate the immune response of patients infected with COVID-19. ISB and its partners are investigating the virus and how the body fights it, to help guide therapies and the development of a vaccine.

We are enrolling 200-300 recently diagnosed adult patients to take part in this research. A trained phlebotomist or clinical staff collects patient blood samples and nasal swabs as soon as possible after a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. A second sample is collected 2 – 14 days later. A third collection of blood happens 28 – 56 days after the first blood draw. All of these samples contribute to a biorepository to support our aims.

Covid-19 study process illustration

Illustration of the process of discovery. Blood samples provided are analyzed. When the data of many people are analzyed it can lead to new insights and treatments for the disease.

Blood samples are examined using proteomic, metabolomic, transcriptomics and genetic techniques to evaluate the impact of infection on different organs, and to identify potential biomarkers to predict the risk of severe disease. In addition, samples are analyzed to create a profile of the immune response, including quantitative changes in immune cells in patients following SARS CoV-2 infection and characterization of neutralizing antibodies in samples from convalescent patients. These insights can be used to inform COVID therapies and vaccine design.

A few dozen ISB scientists are working on this study. The project involves collaborations with many other health workers within Swedish and Providence. 

A Digital Platform for the COVID-19 Immune Response Study

In a multi-institutional study of a highly infectious disease like COVID-19, paperless consent for study participants is critical. One component of the COVID-19 Immune Response Study is a recruitment website with an IRB-approved and HIPAA-compliant electronic consent platform for enrolling patients

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Research in the News


USA Today

USA Today

In this news article by Liz Szabo of Kaiser Health News, featured in USA Today, Dr. Jim Heath discusses ISB’s research into the long-term effects on the immune system in some cases of COVID-19.

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Dr. Jim Heath


News article about the findings in Cell, as well as the breakneck pace ISB and its collaborative partners have been working. Reporter Lisa Stiffler spoke with Dr. Jim Heath.

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Findings point to optimized treatments

Press release detailing findings from the study that show immune response dysregulation at moderate-to-severe disease severity, suggesting that arresting COVID-19 at the moderate stage is most promising.

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Seattle Times

News article detailing the third known case of COVID-19 reinfection in the United States. The patient was identified and studied in the COVID-19 Immune Response Study. Reporter Sandi Doughton spoke with study co-leads Jim Heath and Jason Goldman.

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ST image

Seattle Times

News article about Seattle researchers building ‘biobank’ of patients’ blood to unlock the mysteries of the new coronavirus. Reporter Lewis Kamb spoke with Jim Heath and Jason Goldman.

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Merck ISB Covid-19

Merck and ISB Collaborate

Press release detailing the Merck-ISB collaboration to define the molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and to identify potential prognostic biomarkers.

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psjh-fblive Covid-19

Understanding COVID-19

Video conversation between ISB President Dr. Jim Heath and PSJH CEO Dr. Rod Hochman where the two leaders discussed a number of COVID-19 pandemic topics.

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fierce biotech Covid-19

Fierce Biotech

News article about Merck working with ISB and a consortium of companies to investigate the molecular mechanisms behind the novel coronavirus.

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gen Covid-19

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

News article detailing Merck’s partnership with ISB to identify targets for medicines and vaccines against COVID-19.

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metabolon Covid-19

Front Lines of COVID-19

Metabolon blog post about its scientists collaborating with ISB to improve our collective understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 disease.

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metabolon webinar thumbnail

Driving COVID-19 Research Forward

Jim Heath participated in a Metabolon-produced webinar, where he discussed — among other topics — how metabolomics is being used to illuminate the pathophysiology of COVID-19 infection in current research.

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Seattle Times Covid-19

Seattle Times

News article about Seattle researchers investigating promising ideas to combat COVID-19. Reporter Sandi Doughton spoke with Jim Heath.

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To learn more about the study, get involved, or any other requests, please contact us.

Our Research Partners

Research collaborators on the study include Merck, Stanford University, Adaptive Biotechnologies, Bloodworks Northwest, Gilead, Isoplexis, Metabolon, Nanostring, Olink, Providence Molecular Genomics Laboratory, Scisco Genetics and 10x Genomics.

Our Funding Partners

Funding support for the study came from Merck, The Wilke Family Foundation, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Swedish Foundation, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Amazon Web Services, Gilead, Omeros and Washington State Andy Hill CARE Fund.

This project has been funded in part with Federal funds from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, under Contract No. HHSO100201600031C.