What Is Convalescent Plasma & What Role Does It Play in the COVID-19 Pandemic?
COVID-19 convalescent plasma has been making a nationwide impact and headlines over the past few months — and for good reason. Research suggests that convalescent plasma is serving a vital role during the global pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 which began in 2019 (COVID-19).
New York Blood Center Enterprises (NYBCe) are the leaders in supplying convalescent plasma to COVID-19 patients and, in light of these findings, are directing many of their resources towards convalescent plasma collections and COVID-19 research. However, the organization requires financial contributions to continue their life-saving mission.
What is Convalescent Plasma?
Convalescent plasma is plasma (the liquid part of your blood) that comes from a patient that has recently recovered from an infectious disease, such as COVID-19. It contains proteins called antibodies that are important in fighting many types of infections.
Plasma collected from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 disease is called “COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma” or CCP. CCP is an investigational therapy for COVID-19, so it must be given as part of approved treatment protocols covered by what is known as an Investigational New Drug or “IND.” Health care providers must receive permission from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to use this investigational treatment.
How Is COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Produced?
CCP is collected from recovered COVID-19 patients by a procedure called plasmapheresis. This procedure is similar to how NYBCe collects regular plasma and platelets from their donors. It allows them to remove only the plasma from the blood and return blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets) so they can collect more plasma than with a whole blood collection.
How Does CCP Help Patients?
Some of the antibodies that are present in CCP are directed towards SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. When CCP is given to patients with COVID-19, these antibodies are available to that patient’s immune system and may help clear (remove) the virus faster. This treatment often helps the patient get better more quickly.
The transfer of antibodies from the CCP donor to the patient is known as “passive immunization.” While these antibodies only last a short time, passive immunization with CCP represents the quickest way we are able to provide specific help to COVID-19 patients and their immune systems.
How Has NYBCe Helped COVID-19 Patients with the Supply of CCP?
In early March 2020, NYBCe collected and distributed the first units of CCP in the nation. Then, as it became clear that the NYC area was becoming a focus of COVID-19 cases, NYBCe rapidly mobilized to set up a CCP collection program in partnership with several local hospitals.
The organization used a phased approach to setting up their program. Phase I focused on partnership throughout New York City, including Mt. Sinai, Columbia, Rockefeller, and other medical centers, to recruit large numbers of donors which allowed NYBCe to start collections quickly to serve patients in need of care. As they overcame a variety of challenges that setting up a CCP program entailed, they moved to Phase II, which greatly expanded the organization’s ability to collect and distribute CCP.
By the first week in April 2020, NYBCe had collected over 500 units of CCP, which represented the vast majority of CCP collected in the United States. As of today, NYBCe is the major supplier of CCP, and has supplied over 16,000 units of CCP to patients across the country.
How Has NYBCe Contributed to COVID-19 Research?
Since its establishment in 1964, NYBCe’s Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute has paved the way for new blood-related products, techniques, and therapies and has resulted in numerous landmark patents and licenses. Specifically, in viral immunology, the organization brings innovation to global health issues by developing vaccines for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Leveraging NYBCe’s research and development is essential during this pandemic and for future outbreaks, as they currently have multiple COVID-19 related research efforts focused towards determining individuals at risk for severe disease, understanding the immune response to SARS-CoV-2, and vaccine development.
Currently, NYBCe is conducting research to understand the antibody response in COVID-19 patients. They have recently performed the first comprehensive comparison of antibody testing methods that include not only commercial tests but tests we have developed at NYBCe.
NYBCe is working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through an existing collaboration to study how common COVID-19 related antibodies are in the general population. They have also supplied important samples (plasma, blood cells) from COVID-19 patients to researchers working on vaccines and better understanding how SARS-CoV-2 causes disease.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As the first and largest collector of CCP in the United States, there is still much to be done. NYBCe have collected over 30,000 units of CCP, many of which remain in their inventory. These units are available to current and future patients for their care. They also represent a rich source of COVID-19 related antibodies, which can be purified in partnership with plasma factor manufacturers to produce “Hyperimmune Globulins” which are readily available off the shelf in hospitals and medical offices. In addition, NYBCe continues to perform important COVID-19 research and vaccine development alone and in partnership with others. For example, NYBCe plans to:
- Continue to supply CCP to patients in need across the United States and abroad.
- Supply CCP for the manufacture of hyperimmune globulins as the next step in passive immunization in the fight against COVID-19.
- Continue to research and develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Conduct other COVID-19 related research.
NYBCe Needs Your Financial Support
New York Blood Center Enterprises needs your financial support to provide healthcare services that are vital to communities during the pandemic. These services include collecting, testing for antibodies and distributing convalescent plasma to hospitals in addition to maintaining an adequate blood supply. Transfusions of convalescent plasma may save the lives of COVID-19 patients who are critically ill. NYBCe also needs financial contributions to increase the availability of patients to donate convalescent plasma and develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, which is currently in the preclinical phase. Your contribution could make all the difference in these efforts.
A variety of methods are available for making financial contributions. You can contribute a fixed amount each month, which is the most effective way of ensuring NYBCe has the funds it needs to help COVID-19 patients. Honoring someone special in your life is another way of contributing, which results in that person receiving a letter informing them of the gift made in their honor. You can also make a memorial gift by selecting someone to receive a letter of acknowledgement. Some employers participate in matching programs that let you double the impact of your contribution.