An illustration image of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. (Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Two Cincinnati area doctors are working on a plan to provide plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to help heal others.
Dr. Dean Kereiakes of the Christ Hospital is the primary investigator of the plasma convalescent protocol, which could be used as a therapy to treat the sickest patients with COVID-19. Plasma is the liquid that makes up the largest part of human blood, roughly 55% of its content.
Co-investigator Dr. David Oh, chief medical director of the University of Cincinnati’s Hoxworth Blood Center, called the investigational therapy promising.
The severe respiratory infection caused by the highly contagious new coronavirus is a threat to global health. Yet no specific antiviral drugs are available for its treatment nor is there a vaccine, so effective treatments are needed to reduce sickness and death.
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“Although there is great excitement for convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19, the benefit is still unknown,” Oh said. “The great thing about participating in studies is the opportunity to help understand whether this will be an effective treatment.”
News of the local effort comes days after blood donation centers across the U.S. began to ramp efforts to collect plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19, Kaiser Health News reported. There are already 10 clinical trials around the world using convalescent plasma against COVID-19, according to the Clinicaltrials.gov website.
Not every recovered patient will qualify to have convalescent plasma collected, Oh said. “They have to be 28 days from having symptoms for us to be able to collect.”
Anyone who belives they may qualify is welcome to email Hoxcovid19@uc.edu, or check out the website at Hoxworth.org for more information.
The FDA on Wednesday morning approved a guideline with recommendations for the studies, fast-tracking its efforts. Then on Thursday, Christ Hospital got approval to move forward on the local study.
“This type of therapy is more than 100 years old and was used during the 1918 flu pandemic, a time when antiviral drugs and most vaccines did not exist,” Oh explained in an interview. “This approach was used for polio, measles and mumps.”
The plasma that will be harvested from the recovered contains antibodies – proteins created by the immune system that combat invaders to the body. Some antibodies can neutralize a virus, while others mobilize a range of other disease-fighting cells.
The approach will involve giving patients an infusion of antibody-rich plasma from people who have recovered being infected with the new coronavirus.
The idea is that an infusion of convalescent plasma may boost a generalized immune response, known as passive immunity, until a patient develops a strong, targeted ability to fight the virus.
Patients eligible to receive convalescent plasma must have a severe or immediately life-threatening infection with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, Hoxworth announced Thursday. The treatment must be prescribed by a physician.
Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted mentioned the promising development at the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus in the state.
“We are testing the efficacy and safety in a clinical trial that has been sanctioned by the U.S. FDA,” said Kereiakes, the cardiologist who is the medical director of Christ’s Research Institute. “There is no better platform upon which to provide this treatment.”
The FDA noted in its report that use of convalescent plasma has been studied in outbreaks of other respiratory infections, including the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza virus pandemic.
In the current outbreak, anecdotal evidence from China shows that passive antibody therapy appears to help sick patients fight off COVID-19 until they can develop antibodies on their own.
“There isn’t anything else out there,” said Dr. Louis Katz, a blood industry expert who is leading a working group on convalescent plasma for AABB, an international nonprofit agency focused on transfusion medicine and cellular therapies. “There are historical precedents that it may be beneficial and enough early data that it’s safe.”
Kaiser News Service contributed.
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