Alphabet’s life sciences arm, Verily, is launching a new study to better understand the immune response to Covid-19. The study, called Baseline Antibody Research, will offer serology testing to people who have already received a Covid-19 nasal swab test through Verily.
In March, Google’s sister company began screening for potential Covid-19 cases and connecting people to tests. The project was initially limited to San Francisco, but has since been expanded to more locations in California and 12 additional states through a partnership with Rite Aid.
With this new study, Verily will focus on antibody testing. The information could be useful in gleaning important information about immunity and helping track whether previous tests were effective in detecting the virus.
“Coronavirus antibodies have emerged as a key research area because they can help answer important scientific and public health questions. These include whether the presence of antibodies predict a long-lasting immunity to reinfection, and which antibodies are correlated with protection,” Verily wrote in a blog post. “Along with the promise they hold for developing better treatments and vaccines, antibodies can shed light on the historical spread of the virus and levels of immunity in the population today.”
Of course, antibody testing isn’t a perfect mechanism for tracking the disease. While previous studies have attempted to guess at what percentage of population have been infected, concerns about the accuracy of antibody tests have thrown those results into question. Two widely shared preprints from studies in Santa Clara and LA County used a serology test that could have a false-positive rate of up to 1.7%, which critics say would negate many of the positive cases identified by the study.
Verily has not shared which serology test it plans to use for the study.
The company also said it would open opportunities for healthy individuals to participate in its research, including surveys on mental health, lifestyle, and other topics that might help researchers better understand the changes created by Covid-19.