SINGAPORE: Eleven people who have recovered from COVID-19 have been recruited to donate blood for a novel treatment of the coronavirus, said a director at Singapore's National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).
In an email responding to CNA's queries on Monday (Apr 13), clinical director Dr Shawn Vasoo said more than 100 patients who had recovered from COVID-19 were screened and 11 of them were recruited and are undergoing assessment.
If they are assessed to be suitable, they will donate blood to be used in convalescent plasma therapy, which is "based on the principle that recovered patients have protective antibodies that may help against infection", said Dr Vasoo.
The therapy involves removing blood cells from the blood, leaving behind the plasma, which will be used to treat patients with COVID-19 who may be critically ill.
"It has been used for other infections, including influenza and SARS. However it is still considered a novel and unproven therapy for COVID-19, as with the antiviral treatments that are being used (off-label, compassionate use or as part of a clinical trial)," said Dr Vasoo.
"Careful evaluation with the managing clinician and consent from the patients' relatives are needed before treatment is commenced."
While the benefits of plasma therapy are not yet proven for COVID-19 and medical professionals need further data from well-conducted trials and clinical observational studies, there is a case for attempting the treatment, Dr Vasoo said.
“Given the limited treatment options for COVID-19 and the limited but supportive data of its use, such as during SARS in 2003, we think that selected and eligible patients may potentially benefit from such therapy and are thus setting up this programme,” he said.
To be eligible for blood donation, donors must have had a 28-day recovery period following their discharge to ensure they are fully fit. They also need to have developed a sufficiently high level of antibodies and go through blood tests to ensure they do not have other viruses like HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.
Dr Vasoo said various groups are attempting to identify good neutralising antibodies and to produce such antibodies without having to harvest blood from donors, as well as studying the efficacy of such treatment in human studies.
Some countries have seen success in their experiments with the therapy. In South Korea, two patients recovered from COVID-19 after receiving plasma therapy.
Recovered patients are being approached by their managing physicians from all over Singapore to see if they are interested to be donors. If so, they will be referred to NCID, said Dr Vasoo.
A total of 560 patients have fully recovered from COVID-19 as of noon on Sunday.