Convalescent Plasma Therapy Photograph:( AFP )
The principle behind plasma therapy is that immunity can be transferred from a healthy person to a sick patient using convalescent plasma
Plasma therapy to fight COVID-19 infection has been a much discussed topic over the last few months.
On April 20, the ICMR gave permission to a Bengaluru-based research team to carry out a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of convalescent plasma as a therapy to combat coronavirus.
Convalescent plasma therapy is an experimental procedure for COVID-19 patients. In this treatment, plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient is transfused into a coronavirus patient who is in critical condition.
The principle behind this therapy is that immunity can be transferred from a healthy person to a sick patient using convalescent plasma. The blood of the recovered patient would have developed antibodies against COVID-19, which may be beneficial to treat severely sick patients.
Dr Vishal Rao, a renowned Oncologist from Bengaluru, and his team are researching three different approaches to treating COVID-19 as of now - convalescent plasma protocol, cytokine therapy protocol and mesenchymal protocol for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
"In principle what we decided was that there are four groups of patients in COVID-19 which can be divided into three stages. Now 80 per cent of them do not require any treatment other than home rest and isolation. Another 15 per cent will require ICU admission at some point in time. Another 5 per cent will require ventilator support. Now the Cytokine therapy will be targeted on patients who are symptomatic - those who have fever, cough, cold without breathlessness. The second group of patients are those who have breathlessness and on them we are proposing to use Convalescent Plasma. When it comes to the ventilator-dependent patients - Mesenchymal protocol can be used," Dr Vishal Rao told WION.
In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had recommended plasma therapy to treat the Ebola virus disease. The plasma therapy was also used during Spanish flu pandemic and the H1N1 infection of 2009 as well.
The US-FDA has granted permission for use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients with the therapy being administered in some critical cases. China, where the outbreak first emerged, had used this treatment to treat critical COVID-19 patients as well. Two trials of plasma therapy were conducted on 15 coronavirus patients and they showed improvement.
"The most important aspect here is safety of the clinical trial. When any new therapy is added to any new illness, we need to test its efficacy and check whether it is useful or not and whether it creates any complications," Dr Vishal Rao said.
The therapy, through transfusion of convalescent plasma, may prevent infection or blunt the severity of the infection in individuals with relatively recent exposure to the virus. In India, the Government Medical College in Delhi is also carrying out a trial for the same therapy.
"The way the immune system responds in every virus and every infection is different. Will the same tablet work in every patient? We know the answer is no. In the same way we don’t know how it will work in the current setting. Will it be helpful? What are the complications that might happen? As this is a new virus, our body is responding to it in a different way. That is why it is called a novel coronavirus," Dr Vishal Rao asserted.
The researchers are now arranging the required protocols to be met to start the clinical trial. Fortunately, they don’t have to wait too long for the results. The initial response after administering the plasma to the patient will be within a span of 48 hours.
The first set of results will be assessed within a week of the trials beginning. The trial will be based out of HCG Hospitals in Bengaluru.
According to data from cochrane community - a global independent network of researchers, at least 400 clinical trials are registered across the world for COVID-19 pandemic of which 55 are focused on Convalescent plasma usage.