Re­searchers to study plasma as a treat­ment

Vancouver Sun - - PAN­DEMIC -

• Re­searchers from across Canada will col­lab­o­rate on a vast clin­i­cal trial to study whether the plasma of re­cov­ered pa­tients can be used to treat

COVID-19.

The study, the largest to date ever done on the sub­ject, will in­clude about 50 Cana­dian in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing 15 in Que­bec.

“It’s a ther­apy to treat the ill­ness,” said one of the lead re­searchers, Dr. Philippe Be­gin of Mon­treal’s CHU Ste-jus­tine hos­pi­tal.

“We’re talk­ing about pas­sive im­mu­niza­tions, while with a vac­cine we’re talk­ing about ac­tive im­mu­niza­tion.”

Pas­sive im­mu­niza­tion con­sists of trans­fus­ing plasma from pa­tients who have re­cov­ered from COVID-19 — called con­va­les­cent plasma — to pa­tients in the early stages of the ill­ness in or­der to pro­vide pro­tec­tive an­ti­bod­ies and hope­fully limit the sever­ity of symp­toms.

Plasma is the liq­uid por­tion of the blood that con­tains the an­ti­bod­ies that pro­tect against ill­ness.

Dr. Be­gin cited the proverb, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a life­time.” Teach­ing some­one to fish, he said, would be the equiv­a­lent of a vac­cine that prompts the body to make its own an­ti­bod­ies.

But with no vac­cine avail­able, con­va­les­cent plasma is the best al­ter­na­tive.

“But now we don’t have time, be­cause we don’t yet know how to fish, so we can’t re­ally teach it,” he said. “So the idea is that we just give the an­ti­bod­ies cre­ated by some­one else.”

The ap­proach was used be­fore the de­vel­op­ment of vac­cines to com­bat epi­demics, and it’s not the first time the idea of us­ing con­va­les­cent plasma has been raised in the fight against

COVID-19.

But thus far, the ev­i­dence in favour re­mains largely anec­do­tal and of poor sci­en­tific qual­ity.

The study will in­clude re­searchers from the Univer­site de Mon­treal, the Jewish Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in Mon­treal, Hema-que­bec, Mc­mas­ter Univer­sity, and Sun­ny­brook and Sick­kids hos­pi­tals in Toronto, among oth­ers.

Dr. Be­gin ad­mit­ted re­searchers are run­ning “a lit­tle blind” when it comes to the use of plasma.

“We don’t have a ton of stud­ies that tell us, it takes this kind of an­ti­body, or this amount of plasma,” he said.

The best way to get an­swers is to as­sem­ble as much data as pos­si­ble, as quickly as pos­si­ble, he said, adding that’s why the re­searchers will fol­low the same pro­to­col and put all the data to­gether.

Plasma will be col­lected about a month af­ter a pa­tient re­cov­ers, when an­ti­body lev­els are at their high­est.

The re­searchers have de­cided the con­va­les­cent plasma will be re­served for those who are suf­fer­ing from the ill­ness, al­though it could be of­fered later to at-risk groups, such as health-care work­ers, as a pre­ven­tive mea­sure.

The study is ex­pected to last about three months and in­volve more than 1,000 pa­tients.

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