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Scientists Study Plasma As Weapon Against COVID-19

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Scientists are studying plasma-based antibodies in people previously exposed to COVID-19 as a potential treatment for those currently infected with the virus.

COVID-19 continues to cut a devastating swath through the United States.  On July 11, more than 15,000 new cases were documented in Florida alone.  Researchers say a vaccine is still months if not years away.  However, a potential treatment strategy involving blood plasma is showing promising signs.  

In June, the American Red Cross announced it would begin testing all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies.


Jessica Wibert works for the ARC in Mid-Michigan.  She believes the program is drawing a lot of first-time donors. 


“That’s like the very first question they’ll ask in health history, ‘hey, I hear you’re testing for COVID,’ Wibert says.  “That’s just my thought process.  But whatever people’s reasonings…it’s helpful.” 


An antibody test won’t reveal whether someone currently has COVID-19.  Instead, it indicates if that person has been exposed to the virus in the past.  If so, protein antibodies designed to fight off the infection will show up in  plasma.  That’s the yellowish fluid in the bloodstream that carries nutrients to the entire body. 


Companies like Creative Testing Solutions, which the American Red Cross co-owns, test for antibodies.


“Theoretically – again, all this is still under research – if somebody was healthy and recovered from infection and you transfuse their plasma into somebody who was suffering from the disease, it could help them recover rapidly,” says CTS Chief Scientific Officer Phil Williamson.


Williamson says since January, when the coronavirus pandemic first appeared in the U.S., researchers have learned a lot about how COVID-19 affects certain population groups. 


Creative Testing Solutions is ramping up alongside the CDC and National Institutes of Health to begin testing about 100,000 blood samples each month.


Theoretically, if somebody was healthy and recovered from infection and you transfuse their plasma into somebody who was suffering from the disease, it could help them recover rapidly.

Other companies are working to create plasma-based treatment products. 


Emergent Biosolutions, a national tech company with an office in Lansing, is developing two strains of what’s called hyper immune globulin


“We separate it (and) we filter it,” says Dino Muzzin, Senior Vice-President for Manufacturing Operations.  “Eventually we fill it and it’s a sterile product and it’s administered through an IV.” 


Emergent Biosolutions has already produced one batch of hyperimmune globulin, with another planned for completion soon. 


After a testing regimen, the product will advance into a Phase One clinical trial. 


In early July, Emergent Biosolutions entered a partnership to develop hyperimmune globulin in sufficient quantities to administer to front-line health care workers and military personnel.


While plasma shows good signs, researchers say it’s only a bridge to carry them over to their ultimate goal: a commercially available vaccine. 


Emergent Biosolutions is one of many agencies now engaged in what’s been dubbed as “Operation Warp Speed:” the Trump administration’s goal to develop a COVID-19 vaccine as early as January 2021. 




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