Doctors in the UK are trying a novel treatment for the novel coronavirus. They plan to give COVID-19 patients and their caregivers plasma from people who have recovered from it to see if it cures them.
This is an experimental treatment which will be administered to severely ill hospitalised patients. The goal is to reduce the severity of pneumonia and shift patients off ventilators. Hospitals in the UK and the world over have been overburdened by the influx of COVID-19 patients.
Caregivers, including the doctors, will also be offered treatment.
A senior research fellow at the University of Glasgow Prof David Tappin intends to start clinical trials to test the treatment. He has applied to the UK’s National Institute of Health Research for approval, reported The Guardian on Sunday.
“Trials need to be undertaken, otherwise we will not know if this intervention is effective and worthwhile,” Tappin said. “It may not be a silver bullet, or it may work for instance to stem the development of Covid-19 infection in contacts such as healthcare workers and their families, but not perhaps be as effective to treat severely ill patients being ventilated.”
Other researchers in the UK will also be running parallel trials.
Prof Robert Lechler, the president of the Academy of Medical Sciences and executive director of King’s Health Partners and NHS Blood and Transplant will be carrying out “convalescent plasma” trials.
Convalescent plasma is blood plasma donated by patients who recovered from COVID-19. It contains antibodies against the novel coronavirus and can help the recipient fight the infection better.
These trials are based on the successful clinical trials carried out by scientists in Shenzhen, China which took place from January 20 to March 25 this year. Chinese scientists tested convalescent plasma on five critically ill COVID-19 patients at the Shenzhen Third People’s Hospital.
These patients had severe pneumonia which had led to acute respiratory distress syndrome and antiviral treatment had not made their condition better. They were all on mechanical ventilators. The patients’ age range was 36-65 years and two of them were women.
The antibody-rich plasma was given to them between 10 and 22 days of admission. This is what the scientists observed afterwards:
At the time the research was published, three patients had also been discharged from the hospital and the remaining two were reportedly in a stable condition.
However, the scientists cautiously added: “The limited sample size and study design preclude a definitive statement about the potential effectiveness of this treatment, and these observations require evaluation in clinical trials.”