“Antibodies that are derived from people who have recovered from coronavirus are found in a part of their blood called plasma,” Shoham explained. “We now have procedures to obtain it, package it and then share it with other people through established blood banking procedures. Treatment with these antibodies is called passive immunization,” he said.
“Passive immunization gives the body an immediate supply of potentially protective antibodies, and we think the biggest effect sizes are going to be when it’s given early at a time of lower viral load and lower infection,” Shoham said.
Shoham is involved with two clinical trials for convalescent plasma, one aimed at preventing infection in people newly exposed to COVID-19 and another for people who have a mild enough case that they don’t require hospitalization.
Meanwhile, Pirofski is involved with a trial examining the potential benefits of convalescent plasma for very sick hospitalized patients.
All three trials are slow going, since they are competing with other trials for COVID-19 patients, the experts said.
Most folks with COVID-19 don’t come to the hospital for treatment, and most don’t come for treatment at academic hospitals that are running coronavirus trials, Shoham noted.
The experts couldn’t say whether the FDA’s authorization will further cripple progress on their trials, although Pirofski allowed it might.
“We need help,” Shoham said. “Volunteers joining the study is the only way we’re going to get to know whether this stuff works for prevention and treatment.”
The technology now exists for this to be an easily available and widespread treatment, the experts said.
For example, Pirofski noted that her research has relied on an Orthodox Jewish community in New Rochelle, N.Y., that was hard-hit by the virus. Its members turned around and donated tens of thousands of units of convalescent plasma to help others.
“In Maryland, I believe there were several hundred new cases of coronavirus that happened yesterday,” Shoham added. “In 14 days, those can donate their blood and they can donate it multiple times. That can then be scaled up across the country. I think with organization, there is plenty of plasma that can be available.”