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NCI COVID-19 Research Initiatives

Because SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, there is a lot to learn about how it affects people, including those with cancer, and how to treat the disease. NCI is contributing to the global effort to address COVID-19 by mobilizing its scientific experts and cutting-edge resources to conduct research on COVID-19.

NCI-Supported Clinical Trials for Coronavirus

NCI supports clinical trials for COVID-19, some specifically for patients with cancer.

NCI COVID-19 in Cancer Patients Study (NCCAPS)

NCI is conducting a large clinical cohort study of people with cancer who have COVID-19 that involves all of NCI’s clinical trials programs, including NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network and the NCI Community Oncology Research Program.

The study aims to enroll more than 2,000 patients of all ages and collect comprehensive documentation—such as their cancer type, the treatments they receive, and their symptoms—and follow them for an extended period to better understand SARS-CoV-2’s effect on people with cancer.

SARS-CoV-2 Serology Research

NCI is establishing a Serological Sciences Network (SeroNet) that will work collaboratively to expand serology testing capacity across the country as quickly as possible, develop novel assays, and improve the understanding of the immune response to SARS-CoV-2. Serology tests measure a person’s immune response to an infection in the form of antibodies in the blood.

NCI is also collaborating with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop the COVID-19 Seroprevalence Studies Hub, or COVID-19 SeroHub. This online dashboard catalogs planned, ongoing, and completed studies assessing the proportion of people who have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in their blood. COVID-19 SeroHub is intended to be used by researchers, policymakers, and state and local public health officials to facilitate evidence-based decision making, inform future studies, and identify scientific gaps and disparities.

In addition, researchers at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNLCR) are working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies to evaluate commercially available serology tests for SARS-CoV-2. Accurate serology tests are needed to identify people who have had an infection and may be immune from reinfection. Staff in the HPV Serology Laboratory at FNLCR are working with FDA to validate serology tests submitted to the agency by outside scientists and companies and to develop assay standards. One such standard, a pool of plasma from four donors with antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike and nucleocapsid proteins, is now available by request to labs conducting COVID-19 antibody testing to enhance cross-study comparisons.

Genomic Studies of COVID-19 Outcomes

Researchers in NCI's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics are involved in a series of studies of samples to try to identify genetic variants that are associated with outcomes from COVID-19.

The COVIDcode Study is examining how variations in our genes may affect the severity of COVID-19 in different people. It is a collaboration between NCI, the National Human Genome Research Institute, and NIAID. The researchers hope to use findings from the study to develop therapies that reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms in some people. Anyone who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection may be eligible to join.

COVNET is a large genome-wide association study to identify common and rare germline genetic variants associated with susceptibility to severe or fatal COVID-19 disease. To speed the sharing of data, the study is using an academic crowdsourcing approach to accrue samples from as many as 40,000 people with COVID-19 from centers and studies throughout the United States and Canada.

Findings from both studies may inform how patients newly diagnosed with COVID-19 are triaged, suggest novel treatments, or identify segments of the population who may be at high risk of severe outcomes.

Another genomics study is focusing specifically on people with cancer. The goal is to better understand the biology of infection with SARS-CoV-2, as well as to identify potential targets for new treatments and provide insights that might be used to identify individuals who are at high risk of severe outcomes.

NCI epidemiologists are also conducting studies of cancer patients and survivors to estimate their risk of complications and death from COVID-19.

Search for COVID-19 Treatments

NCI is using some of the advances made via the RAS Initiative to try to identify new therapies for COVID-19. Researchers involved with the RAS Initiative used a screening library to identify chemical compounds that block the activity of mutated RAS proteins that drive tumor growth. That screening library is now being used to identify potential chemical compounds that can block the activity of a key enzyme that SARS-CoV-2 relies on to infect cells.

Compounds identified in these screens that block the activity of this enzyme will undergo additional testing and refinement, in collaboration with researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago, to develop them into potential therapies for COVID-19.

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