How antibodies of COVID-19 survivors may help contain the virus

April 11, 2020

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte recently urged patients who survived the coronavirus infections to donate their “blood” to help other patients recover.

The “blood” the President is referring to is the convalescent plasma.

The approach aired by Duterte had been tried in the past.

The approach dates back to the 1890s, and one of the largest trials was during the H1N1 influenza virus pandemic of 1918.

More than 1,700 people received blood from recovered patients. Unfortunately, research standards then weren’t what they are today.

During the SARS outbreak in 2002 to 2003, a trial of 80 people in Hong Kong found that those treated within two weeks of showing symptoms had a higher chance of survival than those who weren’t treated.

Convalescent plasma was used in at least two outbreaks of the Ebola virus in Africa. However, success rates were not precisely recorded, and the studies were small.

In February, doctors in China used convalescent plasma to treat 13 people who were critically ill with COVID-19. Within a few days, it looked like the virus was no longer circulating in their bodies. However, the patients’ condition continued to deteriorate. Most patients had been sick for more than two weeks, suggesting that it may have been too late for the antibodies to be effective.

At New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, plans are in the works for three clinical trials that will hopefully tease out the optimal timing for administering this therapy.

In one trial, researchers plan to infuse patients at an early stage of the disease and see how often they advance to critical care. Another trial will treat severe cases. A third trial will administer plasma to people in close contact with those confirmed to have COVID-19.

Researchers will measure how often these people contract COVID-19 infection after an infusion, compared with others who were also exposed to COVID-19 but not treated.

Dr. Liise-anne Pirofski, an infectious disease specialist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said these outcomes would be measurable within one month.