In an effort to expand access to investigative treatments for COVID-19, Intermountain Healthcare is participating in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s newly launched National Expanded Access Treatment Protocol to allow use of convalescent plasma donated by patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to be processed and given to patients with the virus.
As part of the treatment protocol, a team of Intermountain Healthcare transfusion experts arranged the state’s first plasma transfusion on April 17 at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray for patient Cynthia Lemus, 24, who is being treated for COVID-19.
Clinicians from the Mayo Clinic are serving as the lead investigators for the convalescent plasma treatment protocol, and are working collaboratively with industry, academic, and government partners.
The objective of the treatment protocol is to provide access to plasma to patients with COVID-19 and to learn more about this promising treatment option. Clinicians from Intermountain are encouraging those who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma that might help others who are currently ill.
Lemus’ husband, Moises Lemus, who also has COVID-19 and is recovering at home, says he was grateful when doctors presented him with the idea of convalescent plasma.
“All I cared about was taking advantage of any opportunity,” he said. “I thought it was worth the shot. I’m so thankful for the person who took the time to donate and potentially gave my wife more time to live.”
Cynthia’s donation came from Minnesota. There are 1,040 sites and 950 physicians who have signed on to participate in this national clinical trial, according to the FDA.
“Convalescent plasma is one of multiple investigative therapies that we are making available to patients, in addition to best-practice supportive care,” said Brandon Webb, MD, chair of Intermountain Healthcare’s COVID-19 Therapeutics team. “We are a learning healthcare system and by making these options available to patients, we hope to not only help more patients recover, but also learn which treatments are effective.”
The FDA considers this treatment investigational but has eased access to it through the National Expanded Access Treatment Protocol as well as approved clinical trials. A doctor can also request permission to use the treatment for a single patient in emergency circumstances.
“Prior experience with respiratory viruses and limited data that have emerged from China suggest that convalescent plasma has the potential to lessen the severity or shorten the length of illness caused by COVID-19,” the FDA added.
Most people who have been infected with COVID-19 form antibodies several weeks after becoming infected. These antibodies are tailor-made by the immune system to fight the novel coronavirus and are an important way the body fights the disease. Antibodies are believed to work by neutralizing the virus.
While there is no guarantee that antibodies to this new virus actually provide immunity, scientists are hopeful that once someone produces antibodies to the coronavirus, those antibodies may offer some benefit to those fighting the infection.
About 200 patients nationwide have received the convalescent therapy. China, South Korea and other countries have also reported use of convalescent plasma to treat severe COVID-19 patients and several medical reports indicate improvement in some patients, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Intermountain is assessing and initiating plasma treatment for hospitalized patients at any of their hospitals state-wide on a case-by-case basis and based on level of severity of their illness and blood type.
“As the donor pool grows, we hope to expand those receiving the treatment,” said Dr. Webb.
Intermountain has also teamed up with the American Red Cross to reach out to and encourage COVID-19 survivors who qualify to consider donating. This way, the treatment will also be available to patients in other community hospitals served by the American Red Cross.
If you have recently recovered from COVID-19, and would like to help, there are a couple of requirements to donate:
• – Standard blood donor precautions apply, including screening for other infectious diseases and adequate red blood cell levels.
• – Recovered COVID-19 patients who meet those criteria must have access to their positive COVID-19 test results. They also have to be without symptoms for at least 28 days.
“Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 may be able to help others fighting this disease by supplying antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus,” said Daanish Hoda, MD, a hematology expert and director of the Intermountain Hematologic Malignancy Department. “In fact, one donation has the potential to help up to four patients.”
To register to donate send an email to COVID19Plasma@imail.org or visit RedCrossBlood.org/plasma4covid.
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