Hospitals In Pittsburgh Testing Convalescent Plasma To Possibly Treat Coronavirus Patients

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A possible treatment for coronavirus is something called convalescent plasma.

“It takes advantage of people who have gotten the illness developing antibodies, donating their blood, and administering the blood plasma to people who are maybe infected with (coronavirus) and getting sick with it,” says John T. Sullivan, the CMO at St. Clair Hospital.

The Mayo Clinic leads the study, and hospitals in Pittsburgh are taking part.

“We are a Mayo Clinic Care Network member, so we enrolled as a member to participate in the trial,” says Dr. Sullivan.

Coordination with the FDA and research review committees came together quickly.

“All the sorts of infrastructure that normally takes a couple of years to build, and in one or two weeks to get this program up and running,” says lead researcher Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic.

To participate, you must be 18 years old and seriously ill or at risk of being seriously ill with coronavirus.

“Patients who are eligible for this are probably going to have family members who consent them for participation because they’ll be too ill,” Dr. Sullivan explains.

Once patients have been enrolled in the study, their blood is checked for compatibility, and they get a single dose of convalescent plasma.

Local hospitals work with Pittsburgh Central Blood Bank to get the donated plasma.

“It’s one of the few things that in other similar viral illnesses, is shown to have an effect,” says Dr. Sullivan, “We don’t know exactly how much antibody would be effective to treat someone.”

Doctors will note survival, length of time in intensive care, length of time on a ventilator and the overall hospital course.

The results of this national study will be data mined in real-time.

“We are hopeful to begin to have this filter out as soon as the end of this week or early next week, especially in terms of safety, to make sure there aren’t any big safety signals and what we are doing,” says Dr. Joyner, “We have sites ranging from Alaska, we get calls from Puerto Rico, North Dakota, as well as New York City. So this is for everybody.”

Because donors must be recovered for at least three weeks and because the process takes scheduling and special set up, the plasma is currently in short supply.

“All of that is getting rapidly ramped up, and we are infusing more and more people every day,” Dr. Joyner says.

“It is probably most effective early in someone’s illness, so you don’t want to delay. You want to be ready to treat a patient quickly,” Dr. Sullivan adds.

The Mayo Clinic expects tens of thousands of patients from across the country to participate in this trial.