Circulating proteins to predict COVID-19 severity.
Predicting COVID-19 severity is difficult, and the biological pathways involved are not fully understood. To approach this problem, we measured 4701 circulating human protein abundances in two independent cohorts totaling 986 individuals. We then trained prediction models including protein abundances and clinical risk factors to predict COVID-19 severity in 417 subjects and tested these models in a separate cohort of 569 individuals. For severe COVID-19, a baseline model including age and sex provided an area under the receiver operator curve (AUC) of 65% in the test cohort. Selecting 92 proteins from the 4701 unique protein abundances improved the AUC to 88% in the training cohort, which remained relatively stable in the testing cohort at 86%, suggesting good generalizability. Proteins selected from different COVID-19 severity were enriched for cytokine and cytokine receptors, but more than half of the enriched pathways were not immune-related. Taken together, these findings suggest that circulating proteins measured at early stages of disease progression are reasonably accurate predictors of COVID-19 severity. Further research is needed to understand how to incorporate protein measurement into clinical care.