Combatting COVID-19: Wolfson alumni provide critical research tools

Published on
Monday 1 February 2021

Our alumni are making a difference in the University's COVID-19 response.

At the beginning of 2020 Wolfson alumnus Joseph Alsousou launched a website to help house NHS staff; and alumnus CHris Whitty takes the lead in UK's coronavirus response as England's Chief Medical Officer. But behind the scenes members of Wolfson are also working hard on combatting the virus. Wolfson alumni Nikolai Schwabe (DPhil Theoretical Physics) and Linda Tan (DPhil Immunology) are taking part in the battle against COVID-19 with ProImmune. 

Dr Tan and Dr Schwabe founded ProImmune in 2000. The company developed building on Dr Tan's PhD work at Oxford's Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. Among ProImmune's early products were Pro5® MHC Pentameters, which are used to detect epitope-specific immune cells so that they can be analysed in human blood samples. ProImmune has pro-actively maintained links with its academic roots and contributed to diverse collaborative projects over the years. During the global pandemic, ProImmune is providing peptides for COVID-19 research, and for immune monitoring of vaccine recipients. 

Robust T cell response
As part of a study that looked at immune responses from UK convalescent patients (patients infected with the coronavirus on the road to recovery), ProImmune provided some of the critical research tools. ProImmune supplied Pro5® pentamers, which is the most consistent, most published commercial technology for detecting antigen-specific CD8+ T cells. T cells are a type of white blood cell that fight viruses. They are central players in the immune response to viral infection. 

ProImmune also provided peptides, which are short chains of between two and fifty amino acids, linked by peptide bonds. The research group studied T cell memory and found that infection with COVID-19 produces a robust T cell response, including T cell 'memory' to potentially fight future infections. Understanding how patients recover from the disease will help support future developments for patient benefits. Read the full article here on

Immune monitoring of vaccine recipients
ProImmune was also part of a publication in The Lancet from the Oxford Vaccine Group, where they provided the peptides for immune monitoring of vaccine recipients. In this publication, among other things the safety of a viral vectored coronavirus vaccine was assessed, finding that the vaccine given as a single dose is safe and tolerated. Read the full article here on

Photo: Dr. Linda Tan & Dr. Nikolai Schwabe, source: