2nd April 2020 – A Blog by Dr David J Flavell Director of Leukaemia Busters

A Blog by Dr David J Flavell PhD FRCPath
Charity & Scientific Director of Leukaemia Busters

2nd April 2020

Leukaemia Busters and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Each and everyone in the world are directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We at Leukaemia Busters are no different. Our life-saving research for another potentially fatal disease, leukaemia, has ground to a halt temporarily until the lockdown we are all experiencing in the UK is safely over.

In the meanwhile our Simon Flavell Leukaemia Research Laboratory at Southampton General Hospital has been requisitioned by the NHS as a possible additional facility in which to carry our testing for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2 virus) that causes the COVID-19 illness. Leukaemia Busters is pleased to be able to help in whatever way it can to help bring this pandemic under control so that we can all return to a normal way of life as soon as possible.

The technologies that we use in our research work for leukaemia are similar and sometimes identical to those that will eventually defeat the coronavirus. There are many similarities between the new immunotherapies that are emerging for leukaemia and cancer and aspects of the immunology behind the serious and sometimes fatal reactions that some victims of COVID-19 experience.

Immunology will provide the key for a long term solution to this pandemic and any future pandemics that are bound to occur due to other viruses that turn out to be similar to this coronavirus. Understanding and then manipulating the immune response that the patient makes to the virus will provide solutions to this and other serious medical problems that the whole of mankind currently faces.  Whether it is through vaccination or by therapeutic interventions that “tone down” the over reactive immune response that causes lung damage in some COVID-19 patients, answers will undoubtedly come as scientists around the world seek to find the answers through careful and meticulously conducted research.

As I have watched the pandemic unfold over the past few months, I’ve seen a flood of information from many sources. Much of this is reliable and accurate but I’ve been alarmed to see that some sources lack clarity or intellectual weight whilst some others blatantly present disinformation and grossly inaccurate facts that might actually encourage dangerous behaviour at this time of crisis. It is, I have to conclude, a symptom of the internet age where anyone regardless of the extent of their understanding or knowledge is free to express an opinion comprised of myths, conspiracy theories or downright lies presented as facts but which only serve to confound and confuse.

To counter this and whilst Leukaemia Busters lab-based research is on hold, I have decided to write a short blog each day during the pandemic crisis that focusses on one important area of the COVID-19 epidemic and the way in which science can deal with this effectively to bring this global health crisis under control.

To keep the blog at least partially relevant to Leukaemia Busters primary goal of developing novel antibody-based treatments for leukaemia and other blood cancers, I will attempt to show where there are similarities in the science that is being exploited to defeat both leukaemia and COVID-19. This I hope will bring you the comfort of knowing and understanding how both diseases will eventually be defeated through good, sound science by committed scientists and doctors whose only motive is the betterment of mankind as a whole. I look forward to being able to tell you more daily as this unprecedented situation unfolds day by day and hopefully provide you with the confidence and belief that science will indeed win the day.

This blog is not intended to replace official advice given out on the UK governments website but rather to supplement it in a way that I hope clarifies some of the complex issues over which there may be anxiety, confusion or misunderstanding. I welcome any feedback on any of the blogs I post by email to contact@leukaemiabusters.org.uk.

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Dr David J Flavell BSc PhD FRCPath

Charity & Scientific Director