Photo Credit: Courtesy of Houston Methodist
Houston Methodist physician scientists Eric Salazar, MD, PhD (L), and James M. Musser, MD, PhD

The first convalescent plasma transfusion trial results in the United States have been peer-reviewed and published, showing 19 out of 25 patients improving with the treatment and 11 discharged from the hospital, according to a Sunday press release from Houston Methodist hospital.

Back in March 28, Houston Methodist was the first academic medical center in the US to transfuse plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients into two critically ill patients. No adverse side effects were caused by the plasma transfusion, and the study concluded that convalescent plasma is a safe treatment option for patients with severe COVID-19 disease.

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To date, this is the largest cohort worldwide assessed for outcomes pertaining to convalescent plasma transfusion for COVID-19. The findings are described in a paper published in The American Journal of Pathology (Treatment of COVID-19 Patients with Convalescent Plasma). It’s the first peer-reviewed publication on convalescent plasma use in the US.

James M. Musser, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at Houston Methodist, said that “while physician scientists around the world scrambled to test new drugs and treatments against the COVID-19 virus, convalescent serum therapy emerged as potentially one of the most promising strategies. With no proven treatments or cures for COVID-19 patients, now was the time in our history to move ahead rapidly.”

Patients were first treated under emergency use guidelines (eIND) from the US Food and Drug Administration and then received approval April 3 from the FDA to open up the trial to more patients as an investigational new drug (IND). This extraordinarily rapid approval granted by the FDA opened up access to convalescent plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Israeli government’s Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center announced, citing a Chinese study, that treating coronavirus patients in severe condition with plasma injection from recovered patients does not significantly improve their condition. The results of the Chinese study are disappointing to Israelis, after MDA had announced, two months ago, a blood plasma recovery operation for convalescent coronavirus recipients with the aim of injecting it into the severely ill patients with the hope of improving their condition.

The study was conducted in seven medical centers in China and included 103 coronavirus patients in severe to very severe conditions, of whom 52 were treated with convalescent plasma. Although there was a clinical improvement in the condition of 52% of the patients receiving the plasma, compared to 43% out of the untreated group, the researchers believe that this is not a significant enough result.

The century-old therapeutic approach to fight the Spanish Flu dates back to 1918 and more recently was used with some success during the 2003 SARS pandemic, the 2009 influenza H1N1 pandemic and the 2015 Ebola outbreak in Africa. Following a study where a handful of critically ill patients in China showed improvement following convalescent coronavirus plasma treatment, an interdisciplinary team of Houston Methodist physician scientists and health care workers rapidly targeted the COVID-19 virus with convalescent serum therapy.

Since late March, when the first patients were infused with convalescent plasma, Houston Methodist has treated 74 critically ill COVID-19 patients, 50 of whom have been discharged from the hospital and are recovering. More than 150 recovered COVID-19-infected individuals donated their plasma, many of them continuing to do so frequently.

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