President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Americans who have recovered from Covid-19 to donate their blood plasma to help stem the pandemic.
“If you have had the virus, if you would donate, it would be a terrific thing,” Trump said during a roundtable at the American Red Cross headquarters, flanked by his team of coronavirus experts — including NIH leaders Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx.
The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved or authorized the treatment, known as convalescent plasma, which has been given to 48,000 Americans through clinical trials or the agency’s compassionate use program. But the administration experts positioned plasma as part of an arsenal of weapons against Covid-19 that also includes dexamethasone for seriously ill patients and remdesivir for hospitalized patients.
Background: The plasma of coronavirus survivors contains antibodies against the disease, which in theory can help those who are sick fight off the virus. The approach has been used several times over the last 130 years against various diseases with mixed results.
There is no proof yet that convalescent plasma helps Covid-19 patients, but clinical trials are underway to test the treatment’s efficacy. The NIH’s treatment guidelines say there is “insufficient data” to recommend either for or against the use of convalescent plasma for the treatment of Covid-19.
The information gained from those trials will also aid the development of Covid-19 vaccines, which seek to prevent infection by helping the body make protective antibodies, said Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert.
Business steps in: Companies are also taking note of the potential for plasma.
Adam Schechter, CEO of the testing firm LabCorp, said at the Red Cross roundtable that his company will offer antibody testing at no charge through doctor’s offices to increase blood plasma donations. “LabCorp is currently working with public health authorities and the provider community on the details of the three-month program and will provide additional information in the near future,” the company said in a statement.
Paul Perreault, CEO of CSL Limited, said his company and the NIH are designing a clinical trial to test a treatment known as hyperimmune globulin, which is derived from convalescent plasma. The company is enrolling patients in the trial next month. If it shows the treatment is effective, CSL could file an application with the FDA by the end of this year, Perreault said.
What’s next: Hahn said the agency is reviewing the data behind the effectiveness of convalescent plasma. Clinical trials are ongoing and an emergency authorization from the FDA to expand the use of the plasma may be coming soon.