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Upstate Medical University seeks recovered COVID-19 patients for “emergency” clinical trial

By Eric Reinhardt (ereinhardt@cnybj.com)

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Upstate Medical University is seeking patients who have recovered from a positive COVID-19 test to donate plasma in an “emergency” clinical trial to help treat others dealing with the disease. (Eric Reinhardt / CNYBJ file photo)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Upstate Medical University is seeking people who have recovered from the illness caused by coronavirus to donate plasma in an “emergency” clinical trial to help treat other severely ill patients battling COVID-19.

The project is part of the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved as an emergency investigational new drug (EIND).

The theory is that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have developed the antibodies against the disease. Those antibodies could then be given to a currently infected person to reduce symptoms and speed recovery.

That’s according to Dr. Timothy Endy, professor and chair of microbiology and immunology at Upstate Medical University, and Dr. Stephen Thomas, chief of infectious disease and leader of COVID-19 preparations at Upstate University Hospital.

 

The process

If you are 18 years or older, have tested positive for the coronavirus, and are now 14 days out from your last symptom, you can call Upstate Clinical Trials at (315) 464-9869 to arrange a screening appointment.

Upstate is working with the American Red Cross to facilitate  the donation process. It will involve a screening with Upstate including another COVID-19 test. After a negative test result, Upstate will schedule the plasma donation with the Red Cross. Once the plasma has been drawn, the Red Cross will screen it for other infectious diseases. That process can take several days but the first available plasma in this clinical trial could be available as soon as next week, per Upstate.

The pool of potential local plasma donors for the project should grow as those diagnosed continue to recover, Endy said. Current potential donors were likely diagnosed in early March, he said.

Plasma donation is safe for donors because they get to keep all of their “good cells,” Endy explained and “anecdotally, doctors are seeing only positive results from patients who are treated with convalescent plasma.”

“The scientific premise is sound that antibodies can reduce symptoms and hopefully the severity of COVID-19,” Endy said. “The unknown with this type of product is currently we don’t know how much antibody we’re actually getting from recovered patients and that’s a question that needs to be answered and we’re hoping to do that. But the risk of getting a unit of plasma, which we do all the time for people who are post-surgical or in need of volume, is very low for any serious side effects and the potential benefit could be great.”

Upstate’s participation in the treatment trial was sparked during a recent teleconference conversation via Project ECHO among doctors from Upstate and those in Wuhan, China. Doctors in Wuhan said they had seen improvements in the severity of COVID-19 symptoms in patients who had received convalescent plasma, Thomas said.

“It’s currently all anecdotal. There haven’t been any controlled studies yet but we hope that will change as we get more information,” he added.

Upstate intends to be the regional resource for the project for any severely ill COVID-19 patients, Thomas said. He stressed that the donation and the transfusion of plasma is safe for the donor and the patient. Endy and Thomas are “hopeful the community will respond generously.”