The University of Michigan is joining a nationwide effort to study if convalescent plasma prevents life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms.
Researchers at Michigan Medicine will work alongside colleagues at University of Pittsburgh, Medical University of South Carolina, and Stanford University.
Dozens of sites across the country — including two Beaumont Health System hospitals, two Detroit Medical Center hospitals, and Spectrum Health’s Butterworth Hospital — will administer the plasma to 600 eligible patients.
Convalescent plasma comes from the blood of patients who’ve recovered from COVID-19 and contains virus-fighting antibodies.
More than 50,000 critically-ill COVID-19 patients in the U.S. have received this treatment through a program approved by the FDA.
Michigan Medicine’s Dr. Fred Korley, one of the study’s principal investigators, says plasma will be given to patients who show up at the emergency room, but don’t need to stay in the hospital.
“Hopefully those antibodies will bind to the virus, and destroy the virus before the virus has a chance to destroy the body and critical organs,” he said.
The protocol for the study, which is called C3PO, describes its target patient pool as having mild symptoms, though Korley says he’s not a “big fan” of that label.
“To the person who is going through the symptoms, there is nothing mild about them,” he said.
Giving it to these less severe cases may hold the disease at bay and prevent its most serious consequences, like organ damage.
That’s why the researchers are looking for participants who are more likely to develop those severe symptoms — people with diabetes, hypertension, lung disease, or other underlying conditions.
They might stand to benefit most from the antibody-rich plasma, says Korley.
Other experimental COVID treatments exist, like Remdesivir, but Korley says the plasma administered for this study will be the first one available to the type of patient who can recover from home.
The researchers hope to have results by November, but meeting that deadline will require “warp speed,” says Korley.
Barriers like narrow access to rapid COVID-19 tests, which are often reserved for emergencies, may make that goal harder to reach.