Cellnex funds a cellular immunotherapy project to fight Covid-19

Five million EUR for a game-changing initiative.

Cellnex, which is playing a significant role in guaranteeing the communications ecosystem during the global lockdown, also aims to play an active role in the clinical response to the greatest challenge our healthcare systems have faced in our times by taking on responsibilities for helping the community. “As a company, we have been close to the front line of the coronavirus crisis,commented Tobías Martínez, CEO of Cellnex, “ensuring the resilience of infrastructure and telecommunications while providing a level of connectivity that has proved to be the key to maintaining a certain normality in social and economic activity in the context of the exceptional circumstances caused by COVID-19.”

Foto: Francisco Avia

Because we are aware of this unprecedented situation,” continued the CEO, “we wanted to support a decided and unprecedented effort by earmarking significant, extraordinary resources to a co-operative project among European hospitals, coordinated by Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic.

The aim is to contribute to research into alternative treatments for COVID-19 patients. Because of its characteristics, the conclusions of this clinical research can potentially be extended to other diseases and pathologies that are viral in origin.”

With these words, Cellnex’s CEO summarised the decision by the Board of Directors to fund research to the tune of an estimated five million EUR over two years by a European consortium of hospitals led by the Clinic-IDIBAPS and the Blood and Tissue Bank (Banc de Sang i Teixits). The IISGM-Gregorio Marañón University Hospital, the IRST-IRCCS of Meldola, the INSERM-U1183 Montpellier and the IRCCS-Hospital San Raffaele in Milan are also members of this consortium.

The only way we can overcome this crisis is by knowledge and research,” stated the CEO when the agreement was announced.

In short, the project sets out to provide a better understanding of how the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 works and to propose new treatments based on the body’s cellular response to COVID-19 using T-lymphocytes, cells that are part of the immune system and are formed from stem cells in the bone marrow.

Foto: Francisco Avia

The agreement that we signed today with Cellnex represents a very important boost for research in the field of COVID-19. The Immunotherapy Section here at the Hospital Clínic has a long history developing cellular immunotherapy-based treatments which, along with the experience provided by all the researchers and centres taking part in the project, will enable us to progress towards developing new treatments to stop COVID-19”, announced Dr. Josep M. Campistol, Director General of the Hospital Clínic, at a press conference.

Cellnex has analysed this initiative with the same rigour as if it were weighing up a possible infrastructure investment, and was not content simply to add more funds to the mass of ongoing research projects promoted by governments, businesses or pharmaceutical companies, preferring instead to take part in the search for a game-changing initiative, something in which its participation would be decisive and through which it could leverage the maximum social benefit.

We analysed various projects with the idea of facilitating and promoting a line of research that would really make a difference, something with a clinical sense that would require funding, and in this project led by the Clínic we found the perfect match, the virtuous fit,” explains Toni Brunet, Director of Public and Corporate Affairs at Cellnex. 

The field of passive immunisation by administering specific antibodies for curative and/or preventive purposes is one of the alternatives to vaccines to beat the disease, in this case using T-lymphocytes extracted from recovered Covid-19 patients. “The great powers and pharmaceutical companies are already exploring possible vaccines, an area that is well-funded, but we do not intend to compete with the pharmaceutical industry in any way,” explains Brunet.

Foto: Francisco Avia

Cellnex, which also recently contributed its technological experience by connecting a field ventilator to the internet of things, has spent years combining business profitability with a culture of “purpose” with which it aims to reaffirm the company’s contribution to making a positive social impact on the development of certain environments.

We had the feeling, both within management and on the Board, that we are experiencing a historical disruption on a public health level as well as in social and economic terms. Call it corporate responsibility, empathy or sensitivity (…) we wanted the company to provide an unprecedented and extraordinary response to show a commitment expressed not only by supporting palliative actions in the acute phase of the crisis; we wanted to commit resources, in the medium and long term, to research with leading hospitals and research centres covering both diagnostic aspects and treatment of the disease. Our aim is therefore to solve the problem, not merely to provide temporary relief.


The immune system as a response

After validating the clinical/biomedical/scientific sense of the project, Cellnex particularly took into consideration the fact that the consequences and impact of the research go beyond Covid-19.

Of course this research is a response to, and is driven by, the coronavirus and Covid-19, but its consequences and potential impact (in terms of antiviral immunological therapy …) could be applicable to other diseases of viral origin such as Ebola, Zika, and so on.

The potential of the project goes beyond COVID since it does not focus on the pathogen itself, but on the immune system,” explains Manel Juan, Head of the Immunology Service at the Clínic and the Immunogenetics and immunotherapy of the immune and auto inflammatory response group of the IDIBAPS. “Therefore, the terms of this project may be applicable to other infectious diseases, whether viral or not (and among viral diseases, special focus on those with inflammatory or hyper-inflammatory effects). Thus, our proposal could provide elements for the diagnosis and therapeutic treatment of autoimmune diseases, transplants or even the anti-tumour response (which in many respects are very similar to the antiviral approach).

The renowned immunologist explains that lymphocytes are the cells that define the adaptive response and control the innate one, therefore they control and define the entire immune response. “Therefore, a disease like COVID-19 that is determined by the immune response (hyper-inflammation or protection), depends mainly on lymphocytes.

The research team explains that it is essential to have tools that make it possible to detect, stimulate and control the cellular response, which is why they are trying to improve the detection of T-lymphocytes able to attack the coronavirus using techniques allowing them to be manipulated and to guide their response to infection at different stages.

True to its commitment to sustainability, Cellnex is contributing its technological know-how to improve people’s lives by participating in various projects, from specific communications for emergency or disaster services, high technology for firefighting or developing smart traffic solutions … However, the company never forgets purely human projects, rolling out actions linked to the economic and social impact of the crisis among people in greatest need or at risk of exclusion due to the effects of this crisis.

For us, funding this research is just one more expression of the company’s sense of purpose, which goes beyond our responsibility to guarantee a solid and healthy return to shareholders and investors … It is also expressed in this component of the company’s social empathy … It is important that the help that we provide in these unprecedented circumstances should also be unprecedented”, concludes Mr Brunet.


Carlos Ruano

Journalist and founder of Newsbub

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