According to our best estimates, the vaccine for COVID-19 could be developed, tested, and ready to ship sometime in 2021. Until then, convalescent plasma therapy should come to our rescue. It has, time and again.
“There is emerging evidence that convalescent plasma is an effective treatment for COVID-19 patients,” said David L. Reich, MD, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Mount Sinai Hospital, which is now collaborating with ImmunoTek Bio Centers and Emergent BioSolutions in a project backed by the US Department of Defense to develop and test Emergent’s COVID-HIG (Hyperimmune Globulin), a convalescent plasma product to fight the novel coronavirus.
COVID-HIG is prepared from the antibody-rich plasma of survivors of COVID-19. Antibodies are proteins called immunoglobulins that help our body get rid of foreign substances such as viruses, and hence the diseases they cause. By transferring the antibodies of survivors to current patients of COVID-19, we also transfer to them their immunity against it.
The three organizations are to play three different roles in the pivotal project.
The global life-science company, Emergent BioSolutions, as explained by Dr. Laura Saward, SVP, and Therapeutics Business Unit Head at Emergent BioSolutions, will be “drawing from decades of experience with our human hyperimmune platform, on which several products have been FDA-licensed, to develop COVID-HIG.”
New York’s largest health system and the very first among other exponents of convalescent plasma therapy in the US, Mount Sinai will host the collection of convalescent plasma and clinical trials of COVID-HIG on its site.
But it would be ImmunoTek Bio Centers which will help it in doing so. The FDA-approved, licensed biotech company which collects plasma from voluntary donors will extend its operation in Mount Sinai. It will provide its technical, scientific, and industry expertise, in the form of staff training among others, to Mount Sinai, enabling them to collect plasma in accordance with the highest safety standards.
In this way, the collaboration of Mount Sinai and ImmunoTek will support the production of Emergent’s COVID-HIG.
COVID-HIG may have a massive impact on the current crisis. As Reich explained, it may not just “become an effective option in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 currently, (but) in the absence of a vaccine, as well as in the future.” What’s more, COVID-HIG is of particular help to high-risk individuals such as front-line workers. As Saward added, “The front-line health care workers and others who protect us are a top priority for reducing the impact of COVID-19.”
It is for this reason that the product will be rigorously tried for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for COVID-19 – to determine whether it qualifies as a kind of anti-viral treatment that reduces the likelihood of getting infected within 72 hours after a possible exposure to the deadly virus. The PEP study also has crucial consequences for the Department of Defense whose operations require people to work as a unit – operations wherein social distancing can be difficult to maintain. The product could protect them and limit the infection’s spread severely. The department has funded the project with a sum of $34.6 million.
That being said, the biggest challenge to the project is a regular supply of convalescent plasma. This is not just to urge the survivors of COVID-19 to donate plasma at ImmunoTek’s centers but to donate it wherever such an initiative has been taken. As Jerome Parnell III, CEO and President, ImmunoTek Bio Centers, remarked, “This unprecedented public health crisis is a critical moment for Americans to donate plasma.”
Want to donate your plasma? Find your nearest donation center here.