SA to use blood plasma of infected patients to save others’ lives
The SANBS will start trials on a therapy that transfuses antibody-rich blood plasma into those who are ill
South African Covid-19 patients who are critically ill could soon be treated with a therapy that uses the blood of those who have recovered from the virus.
The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) has confirmed that in the next few weeks it will start a clinical trial to explore convalescent plasma therapy, an age-old therapy that transfuses antibody-rich blood plasma from recovered patients into those who are infected and sick to attack the active virus.
Spokesperson Khensani Mahlangu said the blood service will be “calling for people who have recovered from Covid-19 to donate blood for use in other patients”.
“We are now encouraging plasma donors to come forward as the need is still great and we are about to go into trials for convalescent plasma therapy.
“As a cornerstone of the health-care fraternity in SA, the SANBS is pro the exploration of ways to use blood plasma for the treatment of Covid-19 patients locally. Research forms a large part of our operations.
“After approval from our human research ethics committee we will, in the next few weeks, start phase 2 clinical trials on plasma donated by recovered patients to see how we can aid in the therapy of people admitted to hospitals with pneumonia induced by the virus,” she said.
The therapy has been widely used by other countries considered hotspots for Covid-19, such as China, Italy and the US, mostly as an emergency treatment until other drugs and vaccines become available. Previously, convalescent plasma has been successfully used to fight viral outbreaks such as Ebola, H1N1 and SARS. The presumption is that those who have survived the virus have built up antibodies, which strengthens their immune system’s defence. Using their plasma could, therefore, help others beat the infection.
Last week, the US medicine regulator the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green light to a study that could determine whether plasma collected from recently recovered Covid-19 patients helps protect health-care workers and alleviate symptoms in those who are severely ill from the virus. The study, backed by Amazon to the tune of $2.5m (about R46m), will be conducted at Columbia University in New York, which is still one of the virus’s hotspots. If the treatment is beneficial, it could lead to FDA approval for wider use.
Mahlangu said while convalescent plasma has been “central to the therapy of patients by significantly improving their clinical status”, it has not been widely used in SA.
“We will only be collecting plasma from donors who have fully recovered from Covid-19. To be eligible to donate, 28 days must have lapsed since their last symptoms. This would be the first instance of our research looking into treatment and the protocols will look specifically at Covid-19-recovered patients,” she said.
She also commended South African blood donors for continuing to donate blood during lockdown.
“We have had an overwhelming response from our donors who have shown consistent support throughout lockdown. At no point have our blood stocks dropped below 3.8 days’ cover, meaning we never reached critical levels. We anticipate that our supply will remain stable,” she said.