November 25, 2020
Observational data early on in the COVID-19 pandemic offered hope that plasma from people who have recovered from the coronavirus could help improve the outcomes of patients hospitalized with the virus.
New research is showing that isn't the case.
In a study conducted in Argentina published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, hospitalized COVID-19 patients who received an infusion of convalescent plasma didn't significantly improve over the following month.
About 11% of the patients died in both the convalescent and placebo arms of the trial. Overall, there were 33 patients involved in the study.
Convalescent plasma therapy has existed for more than a century. The process involves plasmapheresis, a process in which a donor's plasma is separated from blood cells so that it can be transfused into a sick patient, providing them the antibodies needed to fight a particular infection.
At some hospitals, likeVirtua Voorhees Hospital in New Jersey, certain COVID-19 patients appeared to make better progress in recovery after receiving a transfusion of convalescent plasma. This led to the hope that this form of therapy could be an important line of defense against COVID-19.
In August of this year, the Food and Drug Administration authorized COVID-19 convalescent plasma therapy for emergency use, but much of the research hasn't been able to prove any significant benefit to this type of treatment for COVID-19 patients.
A October study led by Dr. Anup Agarival of the Indian Council of Medical Research in New Delhi focused on patients with moderate COVID-19 and found that, even in these patients, convalescent plasma therapy didn't prevent the disease from worsening. This study was published in BMJ.
Some experts say it might be time to give up on this line of treatment and focus on more promising ones like new monoclonal antibodies.
"There have been several major trials that have shown the same results: Convalescent plasma doesn't seem to have an impact on the course of COVID-19," Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, senior vice president and director of Critical Care Services at Northwell Health told U.S. News & World Report.
Other researchers haven't quite given up hope, though.
David Sullivan, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, advocated for continual research in a recent commentary for Fortune. He is the principal investigator on ongoing plasma trials sponsored by Johns Hopkins University.
"Because plasma utilizes local blood banking systems, convalescent plasma treatment and prevention can scale up quickly worldwide in a way that vaccines and drugs that depend on ramp-up time, supply chains, and international distribution networks simply cannot," Sullivan said.