Researchers called on Friday for more research to be continued on convalescent plasma, that is using blood from recovered COVID-19 patients – or is so-called convalescent plasma, it is considered as a potential treatment but a small trial of hospitalized patients in India has found that it has no benefit.
The Indian results, published in the BMJ British Medical Journal, found that the plasma, which delivers antibodies from COVID-19 survivors to infected people, did not help hospitalized patients fight off the infection, and failed to reduce death rates or halt progression to severe disease.
U.S. President Donald Trump touted in August as a “historic breakthrough”, and one expert says has been used in some 100,000 patients in the United States already, despite limited evidence on its efficacy, therefore the findings are a setback for potential therapy.
The Indian study involved around 460 patients, which the scientists do not want to directly get involved in and said its results were disappointing but that should not mean doctors give up hope altogether on convalescent plasma.
They said further and larger trials are needed, including in COVID-19 patients with milder disease and those newly infected.
Martin Landray, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Britain’s Oxford University said, “With just a few hundred patients, (the India trial) is still much too small to give clear results.”
“One could well imagine that the treatment might work particularly well in those earlier in the course of the disease or who have not been able to mount a good antibody response to the virus of their own,” he said. “But such speculation needs to be tested – we can’t just rely on an educated guess.”
While the United States and India have authorized convalescent plasma for emergency use, other countries, like Britain, are collecting donated plasma so that the treatment could be widely rolled out if it is shown to be effective.
The Indian researchers enrolled 464 adults with COVID-19 who were admitted to hospitals across India between April and July. They divided them into two groups randomly. One who is receiving two transfusions of convalescent plasma alongside best standard care, and the other getting the best standard care only.
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After seven days it was seen that the use of convalescent plasma seemed to improve some symptoms, such as shortness of breath and fatigue, and led to higher rates of so-called negative conversion – a sign that the virus is being neutralized by antibodies.
But this did not affect the reduction in deaths or progression to severe disease by 28 days.
Ian Jones, a Reading University professor of virology, agreed with Landray that plasma may be more likely to work very soon after someone contracts COVID-19.
He urged these and other researchers should continue to conduct the trials, and they should do so in newly diagnosed patients.
“We still do not have enough treatments for the early stage of the disease to prevent severe disease and until this becomes an option, avoiding being infected with the virus remains the key message,” he said.