Scripps Health recently became the first health care provider in San Diego County to use an experimental plasma therapy as a possible treatment for COVID-19 patients, the hospital announced Friday.
The treatment involves transfusing plasma donated by someone who has recovered from COVID-19 into a hospitalized patient who is battling a serious COVID-19 infection. Plasma is the almost-clear liquid that remains after red and white blood cells and platelets are removed from the blood.
The idea behind the treatment — known as convalescent plasma therapy — is that people who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus when transfused into patients with serious, active disease.
On Wednesday, Encinitas resident Robert Riordan came to the Scripps Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Scripps Green Hospital to donate plasma. Riordan was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 19 after a ski trip to Colorado. He has been symptom-free since March 27.
Riordan is the second person who came to Scripps to donate convalescent plasma, which will be transfused into a patient being treated in the intensive care unit at Scripps Green. The first convalescent plasma collection and transfusion was conducted at Scripps Green with a different donor and patient on April 1.
While the therapy is still experimental, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on March 24 allowed doctors to use plasma from recovered patients to treat those with “serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections” under an emergency approval system. Doctors can apply to the FDA to use it for their patients, and the agency will review the requests quickly and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
The first convalescent plasma treatments in the U.S. for COVID-19 were performed in late March in New York and Texas, and other centers throughout the country are now adopting the therapy. Doctors and researchers will be monitoring progress closely, as they know it will take time to determine how well convalescent plasma works against COVID-19.
The San Diego Blood Bank has put out a call for those who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate their plasma for regional treatment of the illness.
Research published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Society described convalescent plasma treatment administered to five critically ill COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Shenzhen, China. The patients recovered to varying degrees after their treatments, and while the study was small and only observational, it raises the possibility that convalescent plasma therapy may be helpful in treating this patient population.
The strategy of transfusing convalescent plasma has been used in the past to treat viral disease outbreaks of polio, measles and mumps before a vaccine was available. More recently, it has been used with some effectiveness to treat patients with SARS and Ebola.
During an evolving pandemic like COVID-19, plasma-based treatments can provide a critical stopgap while therapies and vaccines are being developed, a Scripps statement said.