The plasma was administered at the Houston Methodist hospital in Texas, after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the facility permission to transfuse donated plasma into a patient.
The hospital had begun recruiting blood plasma donors on Friday of last week, ahead of a potential approval by the FDA, which arrived on the Saturday, and saw the patient treated on the Saturday evening.
Though this form of treatment is not guaranteed to work, the hope is that the antibody-rich plasma, which was collected from a patient already recovered from COVID-19 and had been healthy for more than two weeks, would be able to boost the patient’s immune response to the virus.
For the patient, this could be potentially lifesaving, the hospital noted, such is the stage of the patient’s illness and with a lack of further options.
“Convalescent serum therapy could be a vital treatment route, because unfortunately there is relatively little to offer many patients except supportive care, and the ongoing clinical trials are going to take a while. We don’t have that much time,” said Eric Salazar, principal investigator and physician scientist in the department of pathology and genomic medicine at Houston Methodist.
Similar to other forms of therapy now entering clinical trials, this type of treatment was utilized in China and Houston Methodist noted that a description of five patients in the country was published suggesting that such treatment is beneficial.
Previously to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the hospital described how similar forms of treatment were used during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and the diphtheria outbreak in the 1920s.
During the ‘bird flu’ outbreak in Asia during the 2000s, the WHO provided further information about the use of convalescent plasma treatment – suggesting that such a treatment was likely to be used in a flu pandemic when alternative therapies were lacking.
The report cited that there was 21% less morality in patients treated with such a treatment in the Spanish flu epidemic and concluded that such therapies “may have value in treatment of influenza pneumonia.”
Pneumonia is a known symptom of severe forms of viral infections in some patients.
New York City is looking at a similar approach to treat patients, with its governor, Andrew Cuomo, stating that recruitment would begin for plasma donations in the coming days.
Under FDA guidelines, Houston Methodist had to apply to treat the individual patient under emergency investigational new drug protocol. In order to deliver similar treatments to additional patients, staff at the hospital would have to apply for approval of further follow-up studies.