Published April 16, 2020
To the health care workers who care for them, people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are an extremely disconcerting patient population. There is no proven treatment, and while the most extreme critical care measures will help some recover fully, in other cases, they, tragically, have no effect.
It’s no wonder, then, that when health care workers, who themselves were infected with COVID-19 and have now recovered, see an opportunity to participate in the search for a treatment, they jump at the chance.
On April 10, the Clinical Research Office in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB launched the local program of the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which the Food and Drug Administration has approved as an Emergency Investigational New Drug (EIND). The national effort is being coordinated by the Mayo Clinic.
The premise is that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have developed antibodies against the disease that could help speed recovery if administered to a currently infected person.
Within just a few days of UB and its affiliated teaching hospitals making the announcement, more than 230 community members, many of them health workers, who have recovered from COVID-19 entered the screening process to see if they could participate.
“There’s already been a tremendous response,” says Sanjay Sethi, professor of medicine, chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine in the Jacobs School and director of UB’s Clinical Research Office (CRO). Sethi is coordinating the program with Tim Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor and director of UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, as well as Pam Anderson and Kim Brunton, associate directors of operations in the CRO.
COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Buffalo General Medical Center, Millard Fillmore Suburban and Erie County Medical Center will be eligible to receive the plasma, provided they meet specific clinical criteria.
Clinicians overseeing the program at Buffalo General and Suburban are Manoj Mammen, assistant professor, and Jamie N. Nadler, clinical assistant professor, respectively, while at ECMC, the program is overseen by Joseph L. Izzo, professor, and Brian M. Murray, associate professor. All are faculty members in the Department of Medicine in the Jacobs School and physicians with UBMD Internal Medicine.
Sethi emphasizes that in Western New York, as in many other areas, the Convalescent Plasma Project is not a clinical trial, but rather an opportunity to provide plasma to some of the sickest patients under what the FDA is calling an investigational expanded access protocol.
“We decided to pursue this expanded access, compassionate use option,” says Sethi. “Scientifically, of course, it’s better to go with a randomized controlled trial, but COVID-19 is an extraordinary situation, where there isn’t much we can offer these patients. The clinicians are saying ‘Let’s do what may help’ and figure out the science later.’”
According to Sethi, some published data points to a clinical benefit in small studies of COVID-19 patients who received plasma from people who have recovered from the disease. Similar data exists for related coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS.
“Our major focus is to get as many people to donate as possible so that we have as much plasma available as possible for patients,” he says.
Individuals interested in donating should fill out the online screening form. Once someone is screened and deemed eligible, they will be contacted on how and where to donate.
Those with questions should contact UB’s Clinical Research Office at 716-888-4845 or 888-4840.