Plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients in Canada could be studied as potential treatment
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). (CDC via AP, File)
VANCOUVER -- Researchers in Canada are looking at the use of a blood product from recovered COVID-19 patients as a potential treatment for others who are sick with the virus.
Canadian Blood Services told CTV News Vancouver they are involved with a group of clinical investigators who are meeting daily to design a national clinical trial to see if what’s known as “convalescent plasma” could help treat COVID-19 patients.
In an emailed statement, Canadian Blood Services said: “Convalescent plasma is plasma that is collected from patients who have recovered from a virus, which means they have developed the antibodies necessary to fight off that virus. In theory, these antibodies could be the basis of a treatment to help others. “
However, the organization added there is currently not enough data to prove it is a successful treatment.
Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an associate professor at UBC’s Department of Medicine, has received funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research for a study on how best to treat COVID-19.
He said while he is involved with a few initiatives to look at the use of plasma in a trial context, he cautioned there is no real science yet to say that it is useful. In fact, he said there may sometimes be “significant harm” attached to it, as well.
“We’ve tried it in a number of other diseases and it hasn’t really been shown to be that effective, even though it makes biologic sense,” Dr. Murthy said. “Like for Ebola for example, there was an extensive effort to see if it worked, but it did not.”
B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said using convalescent plasma is “something we look at every time” there’s an outbreak of a new illness like SARS.
“If you’ve recovered from the disease and your body has developed antibodies, can we take those antibodies from your blood and add them to someone who’s fighting the disease early on and helps them supplement their own immune system response,” Henry said during a press conference Saturday.
The treatment is now being tested in China, Henry said, but she warned that it will take time to see whether it’s successful.
“It has not had a lot of success yet, and it’s a tricky thing because it takes some time to build up antibodies in your blood and then it has to be purified,” Henry said.
Murthy said the Canadian government and other institutions are working on a process to request plasma donations, while incorporating safety requirements.
In the meantime, he said there is a need for caution.
“People are tweeting about ‘I need plasma from a survivor to help my grandfather survive this infection,’” Dr. Murthy said. “That quest for a miraculous cure is obviously reasonable, but I think we need to be incremental in our sort of approach.”
Convalescent plasma is also being looked at in the United States. In New York, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai recently put out a call looking to screen potential volunteer blood donors amongst recovered COVID-19 patients.