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Immunology and COVID-19

The British Society for Immunology and the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) have rapidly convened an expert group to collate and review what is currently known about the immunology of COVID-19, and to identify immunology research priorities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

This high-level co-ordination group was originally chaired by BSI President, Professor Arne Akbar FMedSci, to ensure that the immunology research priorities are addressed as swiftly as possible and that a firm base is established for the necessary studies to inform our response to the coronavirus outbreak. He has now been succeeded as chair by BSI Trustee, Professor Deborah Dunn-Walters. 

Understanding the immunological response to the SARS-CoV-2 viral infection will help us to develop successful treatments and vaccines, identify vulnerable groups, and help inform public health measures to control the coronavirus outbreak. 

Briefing note: What we know about long-term immunological health consequences and priorities for research

The expert group have published a new expert briefing note which rapidly reviews current research on the long-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19 and sets out the key recommendations for future research.

The briefing note outlines three recommendations to help understand what SARS-CoV-2 and our immune response to it does to our health over the long term in a range of individuals, from asymptomatic to severe cases. A better understanding of the immunological health effects after COVID-19 infection is crucial to prevent placing an additional burden on the NHS in the future.


  1. To urgently establish long-term cohort studies and research programmes to track durability of the immune response and long-term disease consequences in COVID-19 patients.
  2. To undertake a multidisciplinary approach with input from various fields, including immunology and respiratory medicine, to understand the pathologies of the diverse chronic symptoms from a range of patients recovered from COVID-19, from asymptomatic to severe infection.
  3. To focus on understanding the underlying biological mechanisms that drive the longer-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19 which will aid to establish new therapeutic options and avoid a new and substantial care-burden on the NHS

Download the full briefing note here

Read the press release

COVID-19 immunology review: an expert summary

The expert group have published a summary of their findings, highlighting the following questions to mobilise and coordinate the UK's immunology research response to COVID-19:

Rapid learning about immunity for public health impact

  1. What, if any, antibody properties confer protection against the virus, and what proportion of antibody responses are protective?
  2. What are the roles of immune cells from the adaptive (T-cells) and innate systems, such as Natural Killer cells and T-cells, in protective immunity?
  3. What is the sero-prevalence of SARS-Cov-2 antibodies? What proportion of individuals mount either an antibody, or a cellular response or both after infection?
  4. How can laboratory-based antibody tests be safely scaled to reliable commercial equivalents that are not confounded by cross-reactivity to other coronaviruses?

Rapid impacts for COVID-19 treatment

  1. What is the full immunopathology of COVID-19 in the lung and other organs?
  2. What are the biomarkers predictive of severe disease?
  3. What is the potential role for antiviral and immunomodulation therapies in COVID-19 treatment?
  4. How can we reliably test whether COVID-19 patients remain infectious?

The review aims to help researchers, funders and policymakers navigate existing research findings and focus future research on areas that will make the biggest difference to patients and society. For those without a research background, we have also summarised the review findings in an accessible question and answer blog.

Download the full report here

Read the press release.

Group membership

The group of 19 people has been constituted to represent a broad range of immunology science expertise. The expert advisor group includes: 

Chair:​ Professor Deborah Dunn-Walters, BSI Trustee, Professor of Immunology, Head of Immunology Section and Lead for Lifelong Health Research Theme, University of Surrey 


  • Professor Arne Akbar, FMedSci, President of the British Society for Immunology and Professor of Immunology, Division of Infection & Immunity, University College London
  • Professor Danny Altmann, Professor of Immunology, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Immunology and Inflammation, Imperial College London
  • Professor Maria Elena Bottazzi, Associate Dean, National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, United States 
  • Professor Judith Breuer FMedSci, Director of Infection and Immunity, Professor of Virology, Infection and Immunity, University College London
  • Professor Siamon Gordon FMedSci, Emeritus GlaxoWellcome Professor of Cellular Pathology, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford University
  • Professor Adrian Hayday FRS FMedSci, Kay Glendinning Professor, Department of Immunobiology, King's College London
  • Professor Tracy Hussell FMedSci, Director, Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research, University of Manchester
  • Professor Paul Klenerman FMedSci, Sidney Truelove Professor of Gastroenterology, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford 
  • Professor Clare Lloyd FMedSci, Professor of Respiratory Immunology, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London
  • Professor Janet Lord FMedSci, Director of MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research, University of Birmingham
  • Professor Paul Morgan, Director of the Systems Immunity Research Institute, Cardiff University
  • Professor Peter Openshaw FMedSci, Director, Centre for Respiratory Infection, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London
  • Dr Ruth Payne, NIHR Clinical Lecturer, Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, University of Sheffield​
  • Professor Ultan Power, Professor of Molecular Virology, Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, Queen's University Belfast
  • Professor Eleanor Riley FMedSci, Professor of Immunology and Infectious Disease, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Ken Smith FMedSci, Professor of Medicine and Head of Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge  
  • Dr Ryan Thwaites, Research Associate, Department of Respiratory Medicine, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London
  • Professor Xiao-Ning Xu, Chair in Human Immunology, Department of Infectious Disease, Imperial College London


  • Dr Jennie Evans, Head of External Affairs, British Society for Immunology
  • Matthew Gibbard, Policy & Public Affairs Manager, British Society for Immunology