Blood from coronavirus survivors to be used to treat critically ill patients in New York after FDA approval
Doctors will use the blood of coronavirus survivors to extract antibodies and then inject this into sick patients
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has greenlit a century-old treatment, providing a ray of hope for critically-ill COVID-29 patients in New York.
Here, doctors will use the blood of coronavirus survivors to treat patients. From the blood, the experts will extract the body's natural weapons against the virus: antibodies. These antibodies will help sick patients fight the disease.
"FDA will approve requests on a case-by-case basis. The trial in New York begins this week," Dr Matthew William McCarthy, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, tweeted. He added that the FDA would take four to eight hours to approve it for a patient.
More than 69,000 people have been sickened in the US and the number of deaths has crossed 1,000. New York alone accounts for more than 30,000 cases and 280 deaths, becoming the epicenter of the outbreak in the country.
This trial will reveal whether the treatment is capable of saving patients suffering from severe COVID-19.
Doctors have used antibodies to treat patients suffering from the 1918 Spanish flu. Over the years, it was found useful in treating various viral infections, including SARS and MERS.
The treatment is called convalescent plasma therapy. After collecting blood from survivors, experts separate a yellowish liquid called plasma from the blood. The plasma contains antibodies against the virus, which is then extracted and injected into sick patients. Doctors hope that these antibodies might give sick patients a fighting chance against the virus.
A small Chinese study showed encouraging results, giving doctors some hope. In the study, experts injected antibodies into 10 patients with severe coronavirus. In a week, the virus disappeared from seven of the 10 patients.
"Although promising, convalescent plasma is not effective in every disease studied," the FDA said in a statement. To evaluate the efficacy of the treatment, scientists need to carry out large and well-crafted clinical trials. It is a treatment the state of New York is pursuing in clinical trials, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on March 24.
Other scientists have expressed their enthusiasm over the trails. "It has a high likelihood of working but we won't know whether it works until it is done and enough patients have been treated," Dr Arturo Casadevall, chief of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNN. "We do know based on history it has a good chance," he added.
However, there are issues with logistics. Before the trial, health experts will have to cautiously test whether the virus is still lurking in recovered donors. After this, they will test if the donors have enough antibodies to fight the virus. Additionally, the antibody donors must also qualify as a blood donor under the existing rules in place by state and federal agencies.
"You've got to find the people, you've got to test them, identify the right donors, donate plasma and get it to the people who need it. That involves logistics but it's all doable we're not talking about rocket science," Casadevall told CNN.