Polyclonal hyperimmune globulin treatments, also known as H-Ig, are manufactured by pooling together multiple plasma donations to concentrate antibodies. (Takeda Photo)
Microsoft is teaming up with the world’s leading plasma companies to streamline the process of developing an antibody-based therapy for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
The Seattle-area software giant’s contribution takes the form of an app called the CoVIg-19 Plasma Bot, a self-screening tool that puts people who have recovered from COVID-19 in touch with plasma collection centers across the United States. The effort could lead to a new type of therapy for the disease, known as polyclonal hyperimmune globulin or H-Ig.
Blood plasma from survivors of other types of infectious disease is known to have a therapeutic effect, thanks to the antibodies that those survivors developed in the course of fighting off pathogens. Early indications suggest that convalescent plasma could have a beneficial effect for COVID-19 patients as well, and clinical trials are underway to confirm those results.
H-Ig takes the concept a step further by pooling multiple plasma donations, concentrating the antibodies and purifying the solution. The purification process minimizes the risk of contamination, and because the medicine is concentrated, it can be delivered in lower volumes and less time. H-Ig medications also have a longer shelf life than plasma, which allows for easier storage and shipping.
Partners in the CoVIg Plasma Alliance include Biotest, BPL, LFB and Octapharma along with CSL Behring and Takeda. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is providing advisory support.
“At Microsoft, we conducted a careful (but rapid) assessment, including consultation not only with our own experts but also several external partners,” leaders of Microsoft’s Plasma Bot team said today in a blog post about the project. “This assessment involved gaining an understanding of the underlying science and potential medical benefits. We are now convinced that the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance has a real chance to save lives, at significant scale, and possibly much sooner than other approaches currently being developed.”
Plasma Bot follows the model that Microsoft used for more than 1,300 COVID-19 chatbots being used around the world, including the CDC Coronavirus Self-Checker. If you’ve recovered from a confirmed case of COVID-19, you just click on the “Get Started” button on the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance’s website. You’ll be guided through a series of screening questions, and if you qualify, you can type in your ZIP code to be put in touch with a nearby plasma collection center.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker, more than 70,000 Americans have recovered from COVID-19. Plasma donors will undergo further screening to verify that they’re eligible to participate in the Plasma Alliance project. The plasma donation procedure typically takes less than an hour. The process returns the donor’s blood cells to the bloodstream, taking out only the water plus the proteins that will be used for developing a potential therapy.
The Plasma Alliance says clinical trials of an H-Ig therapy could begin as early as June. “If the work of the Alliance is successful, the potential treatment could be available this year,” the project’s partners say.