Michigan Medicine is one of four U.S. medical centers recently awarded more than $7 million to collaboratively study the role of convalescent plasma in mitigating symptoms of COVID-19 in patients with mild illness and preventing its progression.

Convalescent plasma is derived from blood donated by persons who have already had COVID-19 and have recovered. It contains antibodies that can bind to the virus that causes COVID-19 and neutralize it.

Currently, convalescent plasma can be given as a treatment for patients in the hospital with severe or life-threatening COVID-19, a process called passive immunization.

The Clinical Trial of COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma of Outpatients aims to evaluate whether passive immunization can be a safe and effective therapy in preventing the progression from mild to severe or critical COVID-19 illness, and to understand the immunologic impact of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies on the disease after passive immunization.

It is being conducted as part of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Collaborating Network of Networks for Evaluating COVID-19 and Therapeutic Strategies initiative. Funding comes from the NHLBI in collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Other medical centers participating in the research team are the University of Pittsburgh, Medical University of South Carolina and Stanford Medicine.

Photo of Frederick Korley
Frederick Korley

 “This trial will focus on patients with mild COVID-19 who have a high risk of developing severe illness, and who stand to benefit most if this approach works as an early treatment,” said Frederick Korley, associate professor of emergency medicine at U-M and one of the principal investigators on the study. “This includes patients over age 50, those with heart disease, lung disease or diabetes and patients who are immunocompromised.”

“We think that convalescent plasma has the best chance of being effective if used when patients are just starting to show symptoms in order to decrease viral replication and the resulting severe inflammatory response that can be so damaging,” said Simone Glynn, chief of the NHLBI’s Blood Epidemiology and Clinical Therapeutics branch. “What we want to find out is whether this plasma is effective enough to keep these at-risk patients from progressing to a point where they need hospitalization.”

According to the World Health Organization, more than 16 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, and more than 650,000 have died from the disease.

The study will involve 600 COVID-19 patients at 50 U.S. medical centers who present to the emergency department with mild illness.

This research will be funded by the NHLBI and the Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority. It is being coordinated through the SIREN Emergency Clinical Trials Network, whose Clinical Coordinating Center is located in the Michigan Medicine Department of Emergency Medicine.