Treatment of COVID-19 is urgent. As part of the next step to advance the use of convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 infection, the National Convalescent Plasma Project has launched a website for health care providers, patients who have recovered from COVID-19 infection and want to donate plasma and those considering the treatment.
On March 25, the Food and Drug Administration expedited the compassionate use of convalescent plasma – plasma from those who have recovered – for care of seriously ill patients infected with coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease. The use of convalescent serum involves taking the antibodies of those who have recovered and giving them to someone else to fight the virus. Currently, the FDA has approved the treatment for compassionate use, which means it can only be used in very severe cases of COVID-19 disease, but it is anticipated that broader use will be approved soon.
Epidemiologist Nigel Paneth, a Michigan State University professor and member of the project’s leadership team, along with colleagues from Johns Hopkins University and the Mayo Clinic, led the development of the National Convalescent Plasma Project last month. The project includes 170 physician-scientists from 50 universities and hospitals across the nation studying the use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 treatment and prevention.
As of April 21, more than 600 severely ill Covid-19 patients have received blood plasma from recovered patients.
Paneth also spearheaded the group’s website, which is hosted by MSU and was created with the help of MSU IT Services and Amazon Web Services. Paneth said the website is a critical tool to distribute much-needed information to health care providers and to register plasma donors.
“We need to inform health care providers about the use of convalescent plasma and also reach recovered patients with an urgent plea to donate plasma,” Paneth said. “Additionally, doctors will use the site to input data on how their patients respond to the plasma treatment. The hope is that we can move this potentially life-saving therapy to controlled clinical trials and then to wider use if effectiveness is demonstrated as quickly as possible.”
“As of April 1, more than 1,100 plasma donors have registered, but we need more,” Paneth said. “We are developing a coordination plan with Red Cross and other agencies to collect and distribute plasma. We also are working directly with the FDA to obtain clearance to use convalescent plasma in trials, and in certain situations, outside of a trial framework.
“The use of antibody-rich convalescent plasma to treat or prevent serious infections has been part of medical practice for more than 100 years,” Paneth said. “It was a common treatment for bacterial infections before the discovery of antibiotics. More recently, other infectious diseases such as H1N1 influenza, SARS, and MERS have been treated with convalescent plasma with varying results.
“Small studies in China during the recent outbreak of COVID-19 suggest, but do not prove, that convalescent plasma improved outcomes. Until randomized trials are completed in the future, we will not know for sure that it works, in what circumstances and for whom, but we’re hopeful.”
Learn more about how those diagnosed with COVID-19 and now fully recovered may be able to help others.