Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A startup is developing a genetic test that could identify people at risk of an inflammatory overreaction to COVID-19.

Why it matters: If we can predict who might be in danger of a severe COVID-19 case, we can focus prevention and potentially treatment on those who might need it the most.

What's happening: Earlier this week, the biotech company GoodCell announced a program with the New York Blood Center to study how genetic variations in the blood can contribute to COVID-19 severity.

How it works: GoodCell offers personal biobanking, which allows customers to withdraw and store blood cells so they can potentially be used for treatments in the future, like CAR-T or stem cell therapy.

  • As part of that service, GoodCell has developed genetic tests to assess the quality of the donated cells, including certain mutations that are connected to an increase in risk for cardiovascular disease through abnormal inflammation.
  • Many severe cases of COVID-19, especially in younger patients, featured an inflammatory overreaction called a cytokine storm.
  • "We found parallels between patients getting sick from cytokine storms and the accumulated genetic changes connected to cardiovascular disease," says Salvatore Viscomi, chief medical officer at GoodCell.

By the numbers: A French study in July of 122 hospitalized COVID-19 patients found a correlation between the presence of the mutations and a higher likelihood of ending up on a ventilator.

  • GoodCell is working on its own clinical study on the question, with the aim of creating a test that could identify those genetic risk factors in the wider population.
  • "If you know you're at risk of getting more than the sniffles from [COVID-19], you would be more likely to change your behavior," says Viscomi.

Yes, but: COVID-19 is still a new disease, and it's likely that a variety of factors ultimately combine to determine the severity of an infection.

The bottom line: One of the biggest challenges of COVID-19 is just how varied its presentation is, from no symptoms at all to sudden death. But our genes may help predict the most likely outcome before we even get sick.

Go deeper

Oct 24, 2020 - World

Poland's president tests positive for coronavirus

Duda. Photo: Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Polish President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokesperson announced on Saturday.

The big picture: Duda is reportedly feeling well and in isolation. His positive test comes amid a massive uptick in COVID-19 throughout the country and elsewhere across Europe.

  • Poland had previously warded off the virus with relative success, but is now facing a massive influx of cases that threatens to overwhelm its medical system.
  • The nation on Saturday tracked "13,628 new cases and 179 new deaths — a record number of deaths in one day since the start of pandemic," AP reports.
Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trumpworld coronavirus tracker

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

An outbreak of COVID-19 has struck the White House — including the president himself — just weeks before the 2020 election.

Why it matters: If the president can get infected, anyone can. And the scramble to figure out the scope of this outbreak is a high-profile, high-stakes microcosm of America's larger failures to contain the virus and to stand up a contact-tracing system that can respond to new cases before they have a chance to become outbreaks.

Pence to continue traveling despite aides testing positive for COVID-19

Marc Short with Pence in March. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday and is quarantining, according to a White House statement.

Why it matters: Short is Pence's closest aide, and was one of the most powerful forces on the White House coronavirus task force. Pence and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for the virus on Sunday morning, according to the vice president's office.

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