In a new study, researchers report that the U.S.’s first plasma transfusion treatment for COVID-19 shows 19 out of 25 patients improved with the treatment, and 11 were discharged from the hospital.
On March 28, Houston Methodist became the first medical center to transfuse plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients into two critically ill patients.
With no adverse side effects caused by the plasma transfusion, the study concludes that convalescent plasma is a safe treatment for people with severe COVID-19 disease.
The research was conducted by a team at Houston Methodist.
While scientists around the world scrambled to test new drugs and treatments against the killer COVID-19 virus, convalescent serum therapy emerged as potentially one of the most promising strategies.
The century-old therapeutic approach dates back to at least as early as 1918 to fight the Spanish Flu and more recently was used with some success during the 2003 SARS pandemic, the 2009 influenza H1N1 pandemic, and the 2015 Ebola outbreak in Africa.
A study early on in the COVID-19 pandemic showed a handful of critically ill patients in China showed improvement.
The team rapidly targeted the COVID-19 virus with convalescent serum therapy.
Additional findings revealed patient outcomes of plasma therapy were very similar to recently published results of patients treated on a compassionate-use basis with the antiviral drug Remdesivir.
The team also concluded that any observed complications were consistent with findings reported for COVID-19 disease progression and not brought about by the plasma transfusions.
The study’s overall findings were consistent with several other small case studies of convalescent plasma use for severe COVID-19 that have been recently reported.
Ultimately, although the convalescent plasma therapy was implemented for emergency treatment, the researchers suggest the need for clinical studies to confirm the benefits.
This would help address some questions, including whether patients would have better outcomes if plasma transfusions were administered sooner after the onset of symptoms.
Not all plasma recipients transfused so far at Houston Methodist were part of this first trial.
Since late March, when the first patients were infused with convalescent plasma, Houston Methodist has treated 74 critically ill COVID-19 patients, 50 of whom have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering.
More than 150 recovered COVID-19-infected people donated their plasma, many of them continuing to do so frequently.
Given the urgency of finding effective treatments for COVID-19, the report has been posted on the preprint server medRxiv.
One author of the study is James M. Musser, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine.
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