Kerala is the first state to have got the nod from ICMR to go ahead with testing the convalescent plasma therapy on COVID-19 patients.
Experts in Kerala will now test a therapy for coronavirus infection that uses plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. The therapy was proposed by a task force of doctors and scientists formed by the Kerala government.
With no vaccine in sight for the SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, experts are looking at plasma therapy as a potential treatment for the deadly respiratory illness. The use of plasma therapy in clinical trials for critically ill COVID-19 patients has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA cautioned that the therapy, although promising, has not yet been shown to be safe and effective as a treatment for COVID-19, hence, more work is required to study the safety and efficacy of the therapy in clinical trials.
What exactly is convalescent plasma therapy?
The therapy involves transfusing blood plasma from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 into people who are very sick with the virus or those at high risk of contracting the virus. Convalescent plasma therapy has been around for more than 100 years and was used during the flu pandemic in 1918.
Dr Debasish Gupta, Professor and Head, Transfusion Medicine, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Trivandrum, told TNIE that the proposed plasma therapy can help cure COVID-19 patients within just 3-7 days.
How does convalescent plasma therapy work?
When a person infected with a virus or bacteria recovered, he/she develops antibodies that either give life-long or short-term immunity against that particular microorganism. Similarly, patients who recover from COVID-19 develop antibodies – proteins secreted by immune cells – which are found in plasma that helps the blood to clot when required.
So, those antibodies from a recovered COVID-19 patient, when transfused into someone with the disease, they can help the person who is sick by recognising the virus as something to attack. Scientists said those antibodies attack the spikes on the outside of the coronavirus, thereby preventing the virus from entry into human cells.
Mayo Clinic CEO Dr Gianrico Farrugia told CNBC that those antibodies can neutralise the virus or trigger an immune response.
Who would benefit the most from plasma therapy?
Researchers believe that convalescent plasma, which is also known as passive antibody therapy, will be effective in treating severly ill COVID-19 patients. It is also believed that the therapy will reduce the risk of contracting the virus in people who are at high risk.
How many patients can be treated with plasma therapy collected from a COVID recovered patient?
The good news is that a patient needs just one transfusion to obtain enough antibodies to the virus. So, experts said that plasma from a donor (recovered patient from COVID-19) can give two doses of the material required for transfusion – meaning it can help save a minimum of two patients. Also, the treatment can speed up the recovery process.
Who is testing convalescent plasma therapy?
Many institutions around the world are part of the National Covid-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, a project self-organised by researchers to advance the use of plasma for treating coronavirus disease. The project is asking people who have recovered from COVID-19 infection to donate plasma for the care of seriously ill patients.
Earlier in March, the Houston Methodist Hospital became the first in the US to try the plasma therapy when it infused the blood of a recovered COVID-19 patient into a critically ill patient.
The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, in partnership with the FDA, is conducting clinical trials of convalescent plasma, to treat three patients with the therapy, reported KIRO 7. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, is also conducting trials on convalescent plasma. Also, a study from China reported success in the use of plasma therapy in treating five critically ill patients.
Currently, the therapy has been approved for compassionate use only, meaning it can only be used in very severe cases of COVID-19 disease. Researchers believe the experimental therapy, if it proves successful, could be a more immediate treatment for COVID-19 with no effective vaccines or proven drug therapies for treating the coronavirus disease.