FDA Approves Clinical Trial of Convalescent Plasma Therapy for COVID-19

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved a clinical trial that is going to allow the researchers at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) to test a convalescent plasma therapy for the patients suffering from life-threatening COVID-19 infection.

The plasma – yellowish liquid part of the blood that suspends blood cells and carries cells and proteins throughout the body – will be obtained from the patients who have recovered from COVID-19. Apart from treating the critically-ill patients, the researchers are hoping that this technique will strengthen the natural immunity of health care professionals, the first responders and those who are at high risk of developing the virus.

A New Treatment from an Old Therapy

The team of researchers, spearheaded by Arturo Casadevall, a Johns Hopkins immunologist, has proposed the use of a therapeutic agent called convalescent plasma that is considered to be rich in antibodies against the infectious agent of the disease. The use of convalescent plasma is not a new concept. It has been around since the 1800s to strengthen the immune system.

The idea is that the plasma collected from a patient who has successfully recovered from the disease, is isolated, processed and injected into an infected patient where it massively boosts the individual’s immune system.

The JHU investigators gained the convalescent plasma directly from the blood of those candidates who have already recovered from the deadly coronavirus. The team used a strategy called ‘isolating plasma’ to separate the plasma from the blood.

How Plasma is Collected from Blood

Plasma is produced when the blood is collected in a test tube because there is no chance of blood clotting in the test tube. The blood cells are removed by a method called centrifugation. A Pasteur pipette, which is also known as a dropper, is used to remove the plasma from the cell pellet.

The team of researchers, including Evan Bloch and Shmuel Shoham of the School of Medicine and Andy Pekosz and David Sullivan from the School of Public Health, is mainly putting efforts into using convalescent plasma therapy to fight against the serious and life-threatening coronavirus. They believe that using this therapy will help in saving the lives of the infected and especially those who are on the frontline of this war, including health care providers and the first responders.

Aaron Tobian, MD, PhD, professor of pathology, director Transfusion Medicine Division and deputy director for Clinical Affairs at Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, says:

Plasma transfusions are critically important and used every day to save the lives of patients who are bleeding. It is incredibly important for us to determine whether convalescent plasma will also be able to save the lives of individuals infected with COVID-19 and prevent infection of COVID-19.

Replying to a question by Health Units on when the researchers will be able to find the results of convalescent plasma trials in the patients of COVID-19, Aaron Tobian said:

We are planning to begin collecting convalescent plasma this week and would hope that in the next month or two we begin to have concrete answers.

A Similar Chinese Experiment

A similar study led by Chinese researchers was published on 27 March in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in which the effects of the convalescent plasma on five critically ill patients of COVID-19 were studied. The team reported that all the patients were males and were on the ventilator. They were treated successfully from the deadly virus by taking convalescent plasma from the recovered patients. The patients received the plasma for 12 days. As a result, all patients recovered as the viral titers, the concentration of an antibody in the blood, dropped to zero.

During the experiment, the patients also received some anti-viral agents including interferon and lopinavir/ritonavir. But, the role of these antibiotics in the recovery of the patients is still unknown.

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