MINNEAPOLIS — The Mayo Clinic announced Friday it is leading a national trial to use donated plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 as a treatment therapy for others infected by the novel coronavirus that causes the illness.
The cooperative effort with 40 institutions in 20 states could verify a vital treatment, given that nobody has immunity against the coronavirus that has quickly spread across the globe. Administered in a handful of U.S. cases already, plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients would provide immune system boosts to others with the illness.
“Theoretically, it gives them an antibody boost, which should help them clear the virus,” said Dr. Michael Joyner, the Mayo doctor leading the program, which is being sponsored by the federal government.
Joyner said hospitalized patients will be targeted for the therapy, but not just those with the worst symptoms in intensive care. Immune system responses could actually be hurting some of these patients, meaning that plasma therapy could be ineffective or even harmful in such cases.
“Certainly in patients that are extremely ill in the ICU, this is a possibility,” Joyner said. “The thought is that historically this type of therapy (in other conditions) has been most effective when used relatively early in the course of disease as people are getting sicker and sicker.
“We’re going to have people trying it for different indications but I think that rescue therapy (for severe cases) is going to be an area where it’s probably going to be relatively less effective.”
Given the rapid increase in hospitalized patients predicted throughout the country, patients interested in this experimental option could likely exceed availability. Finding plasma donors also could be complicated, Joyner said, because donors must have initial coronavirus tests that confirm their infections, and then back-to-work tests that confirm that they have recovered and that their plasma is safe to use.
Joyner said increases in COVID-19 testing capacity at Mayo and other institutions nationwide could help. Mayo also is days away from announcing a serological blood test that can check for antibodies in patients who have recovered from their infections. That testing could help as well.
“I’m cautiously optimistic … but this is going to be a massive logistical pull,” Joyner said. “People have to understand that our ability to identify donors and collect the plasma is going to be a rate-limiting step for a matter of weeks.”
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