Plasma therapy trial delays in U.K. 'extremely disappointing'

16 April 2020

Ben Adams / FierceBiotech

As the U.K. teeters toward Europe’s worst COVID-19 death toll and hit more than 10,000 deaths over the weekend, researchers are decrying the country’s delay in getting plasma therapy into trials to help patients with COVID-19.

This type of therapy sees plasma taken from the blood of recovered patients, thereby using their antibodies to help those struggling to shake off the disease.

There are ongoing trials with this kind of therapy in some European countries as well as in China and the U.S., but in the U.K., which has seen its Prime Minister Boris Johnson leave hospital after three days in the ICU with COVID-19, these types of trials are not getting off the ground, and many are getting frustrated by the delay.

Colin Hamilton-Davies, M.D., who leads the acute cardiac critical care unit at Bart's Hospital in London, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.K., said: “We have a national health service and blood service that is the envy of the world, we have a very substantially-sized department of blood transfusion, and for people harvesting blood plasma, we could step it up within a week.”

He reached out to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who was recently diagnosed with the virus, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, currently leading the government in Johnson’s absence, offering his help in this area, but no decision as to a start date for any test is yet to be made.

“It's incredibly frustrating, he said. “It's not only myself, but many colleagues are saying 'why aren't we looking at this in greater depth and in a faster timeframe?'

"There is a research framework which is up and running, which it may or may not become part of. I very much hope it does. This is something we could get up and running very quickly indeed.”

Muhammad Munir, Ph.D., a molecular virologist at Lancaster University, also told Sky News: “Plasma treatment is an interim solution and should be done at all costs because what we're looking into is a vaccine for next year. The plasma is something we can offer and it is in our hands.

“It would be extremely disappointing if this effort shouldn't be made in place, and especially at a time when so many people are recovering and they can be a valuable source of collection of the plasma.”

The U.K. has been accused of being behind the curve in several areas: It has taken longer to lock down the country than most other European and Asian countries and has a less austere take on what a lockdown means.

It’s also been accused of a failure to test widely enough, initially restricting this to just those in hospital, although it has come under pressure to boost its daily testing capacity by the month’s end.

It is, however, trialing Gilead Sciences’ old Ebola hopeful remdesivir across the country in the hopes it can help mild to moderate patients with the virus recover more quickly.

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