Plea for plasma after positive results with coronavirus patients in China

Zhuang Pinghui

A biotech giant and a blood bank at the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak in China has appealed for people who have recovered from the illness to donate blood plasma to help treat others.

State-owned China National Biotec Group (CNBG) said on Thursday night that plasma from former patients had been used to treat about a dozen critically ill people at various hospitals in Wuhan – the central Chinese city where the virus emerged – and the results had been positive.

CNBG said it started collecting the plasma from January 20 and conducted a series of biological safety tests for virus inactivity and antibody activity.

Most patients who recovered from the illness produced specific antibodies against the virus, the company said.

Patients given the plasma got better, with key indicators such as blood oxygen saturation and viral load improving after 12 to 24 hours of treatment.

An unidentified CNBG official said plasma could be collected, tested and prepared safely and quickly.

Lu Hongzhou from the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre, which has been designated to treat coronavirus cases, said that using plasma from recovered patients to treat others was a well-established practice and that six of the 28 patients discharged on Friday from the centre would return in about two weeks to donate blood.

“At present, given the lack of vaccines and specific therapeutic drugs, the use of this plasma with specific immunoglobulin is the most effective way to treat the new coronavirus infection and reduce the mortality rate of critically ill patients,” Lu said, adding that the centre was preparing to use the plasma on its first case.

Another virologist in Shanghai who declined to be named, said that although the treatment was safe and effective, it was limited by the number of patients who could donate blood.

“We don’t know for sure how long the antibody level will remain high in a recovered patient. The treatment depends on how many recovered patients donate their blood, which means this treatment can be available to a very limited number of patients,” the virologist said.

By Thursday, 6,723 patients had recovered and been discharged from hospital on the mainland, according to the National Health Commission. It is unclear how many of them are in the 18-60 age range required for blood donation.

Amesh Adalja, from the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, said more caution was required to see how plasma worked on Covid-19 – the name of the new illness – because the approach did not work with Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

“Convalescent plasma has been used for many different infectious diseases with variable success. I think it’s important to try this clinical measure however I do not believe that we should expect it to have a profound effect as this type of measure did not work with Sars,” Adalja said.

“It will be important to ensure that patients are appropriately consented, the plasma is appropriately collected and maintained, and the clinical trial is done in a rigorous manner.”

CNBG group and the Wuhan Blood Centre sent out a call for blood donations on Thursday.

“We treated 11 clinical ill patients with plasma from recovered patients and achieved remarkable results,” the centre said.

“Dear friends who recovered from coronavirus pneumonia, one for all and all for one. Please donate plasma to save a critically ill life.”

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