‘Approvals for clinical trials awaited’: Dr Debasish Gupta speaks to Organiser on plasma therapy to treat COVID-19 patients

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Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST), the Department of Science and Technology, was the first institution to obtain a go-ahead for carrying out plasma therapy research in Bharat. The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) gave approval to SCTIMST to treat COVID-19 patients with 'convalescent-plasma therapy’. In this backdrop, Dr Debasish Gupta, Professor and Head, Transfusion Medicine, SCTIMST, speaks to Arun Lakshman. Excerpts:
What do you mean by Plasma treatment and how effective is this for COVID patients?
The rationale behind this Convalescent Plasma therapy is that the COVID-19 recovered patients have significant neutralising antibody titres which can help in the disappearance of viremia if transfused to severely affected COVID-19 patients. Studies have shown significant improvement in the clinical signs and symptoms and laboratory parameters after the use of convalescent plasma in these patients. There was an increase in the oxy-haemoglobin saturation, decreased C-reactive protein along with radiological examination showing the varying degree of resolution of lung lesions. This approach of transfusing convalescent plasma can serve as a promising life-saving therapy for severe COVID-19 patients.
Are there any hurdles do carrying out this treatment?
Since this plasma is not collected from a normal health voluntary blood donor but from a recently recovered COVID-19 patient, there is a need for getting Ethical clearance, approval from Drugs Controller General (India) and State Drug Authority, approval by ICMR for clinical trials and of course the support and approval from State Health department, before this clinical trial on collection and therapy of Convalescent plasma is initiated.
Is there a limit to the number of patients who can be treated using plasma from a single donor?
Normally a volume of 200 ml of Convalescent plasma with high titre of Neutralising antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 is sufficient for treating one patient. Occasionally, one more unit may be required in some patients. From one Plasma donor, we can collect plasma ranging from 400 ml. to 1000 ml. depending on their body weight, plasma volume, general health condition, good laboratory parameters. Based on the collected volume, this plasma units can be divided in to 2 -5 units of 200 ml. each. Accordingly, the number of patients will be benefitted by one donation.
Have you lined up any potential donors for plasma?
Potential donors can be recruited only after their quarantine period is completed post-full recovery from the disease and certified by their COVID Clinic.
Is there any criteria for receiving plasma or whether plasma transfusion can be effectively done in all stages of the disease?
There are exclusive criteria laid down for identifying the patients who need Plasma Therapy on a priority basis. These criteria have to be followed by any centre undertaking Convalescent Plasma Therapy. Rationale use of these plasma units has to be strictly followed.