Seeking a treatment

Sierra Rains
The Oklahoma Blood Institute collected its first units of convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients earlier this week. Plasma from recovered patients contains antibodies that may help lessen the severity or shorten the length of the COVID-19 illness.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute collected its first units of convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients earlier this week as part of an experimental initiative to treat critically ill patients.

The plasma units are being processed and tested for safety. Once cleared for patient use, they will be transfused to critically ill patients at OBI partner hospitals as part of the experimental treatment.

With several partner hospitals located across southern Oklahoma, it is possible that the plasma units could eventually make their way to critically ill patients at medical facilities in Durant, Madill, Sulphur, Ardmore, Marietta, Ada and Tishomingo if needed.

In an April 3 press release, the Federal Drug Administration announced that it is coordinating a national effort to develop two investigational therapies derived from human blood, including the use of convalescent plasma and hyperimmune globulin.

More than 20 recovered COVID-19 patients have signed up to serve as possible donors since the OBI created its statewide registry less than a week ago as a response to the FDA’s action to fast track the potential treatment, said OBI Director of Community Relations Valerie Trammell.

“They made the decision to allow this experimental treatment less than two weeks ago,” Trammell said. “This is just a tremendous speed by which we’ve been able to do this. I kind of think it speaks to what is happening nationwide right now with COVID-19 and how people are finding ways to innovate in a really tight time frame.”

As COVID-19 continues to spread, more recovered patients will be needed to donate their plasma.

Donors are required to meet a certain set of criteria including: having a prior diagnosis of COVID-19 documented by a lab test, being symptom-free for 14 days prior to donation, testing negative for COVID-19 and being eligible to donate blood.

“Once you register, so say you had covid and you were symptom free for over two weeks and you want to donate— it’s kind of a process, not difficult, but just there’s a few steps in it,” Trammell said.

First, OBI will look to see if recovered COVID-19 patients who register match with a critically ill patient as far as plasma compatibility. Then, registrants will be contacted and asked to go through a series of tests.

“At present our (testing) sites are in the metro areas, but I don’t know if that will remain the case,” Trammell said, adding that testing is being conducted on a case-by-case basis and many of the recovered COVID-19 patients who have registered have come from areas outside of the metro.

The tests are conducted to ensure the patients are clear of any contagious part of the virus and that they have a negative test, therefore containing antibodies counteracting the virus. Once qualified, plasma will be drawn and each donor will be able to provide up to three therapeutic plasma doses.

The use of convalescent plasma has been studied in outbreaks of other respiratory infections, including the 2003 SARS-CoV-1 epidemic and the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza infections, according to the FDA.

Convalescent plasma and hyperimmune globulin contain antibodies from people who have recovered from the virus and, based on prior experience with respiratory viruses and data from China, have been shown to lessen the severity or shorten the length of illness caused by COVID-19, according to the FDA.

Although the FDA considers its use promising, convalescent plasma has not yet shown to be effective as a treatment for COVID-19 and is being regulated as an investigational product, according to the FDA.

“I think people are eager to find something to give hope to this since there are so few treatment options and so we’re just excited to play our part in that process,” Trammell said.

Recovered COVID-19 patients are encouraged to sign up for Oklahoma’s registry at Bio-Linked allows users to submit confidential health and social information via a secure site and to list themselves as potential volunteers for medical research.

“Our big message right now is just, if you’ve recovered please sign up,” Trammell said. “If you were diagnosed and you recovered, please sign up because that’s what we can do right now.”