Plasma therapy shown ineffective in treating the coronavirus, study finds

Dr. Dave Lal, pediatric oncologist at Children's Wisconsin, donates to Versiti’s convalescent plasma program (photo courtesy of Versiti)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A highly anticipated method of treating COVID-19 turns out not to be as effective as health officials had hoped. 

Convalescent plasma therapy is an experimental treatment some doctors are using to help people recover from severe COVID-19. However, in a study published in the June issue of JAMA, severely infected coronavirus patients were no better off when plasma therapy was added to their treatment than those who received standard care alone.  

Doctors randomized 103 infected patients experiencing higher than normal respiratory distress, organ failure, required mechanical ventilation or a combination of the three. Fifty-two patients were treated with convalescent plasma while the other 51 were not. All patients were monitored for 28 days. 

People who recovered from the novel coronavirus, scientists have found, develop antibodies. Antibodies are the body’s immune fighting cells that attack bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances found in the blood. When a person recovers from the coronavirus and develops antibodies against it, a portion of their blood is then referred to as convalescent plasma. The idea is that this healthy plasma would be given to a person who is infected with COVID-19 which would facilitate a faster recovery.

At the end of the study period, patients in the plasma group were not discharged sooner nor did they recover more quickly than those who did not get plasma therapy. However, results did show a decreased COVID-19 respiratory viral load in 87% of plasma receiving patients after 3 days compared to the 37.5% viral load decrease in the standard care group. 

Convalescent plasma remains a potential therapeutic for the novel coronavirus, however, more evidence is needed to determine its effectiveness. This study, authors say, may not have had enough participants to show significant differences between the two groups. 

To date, there is still no FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved treatment for people with COVID-19.