Hoag Hospital Seeks Recovered Patients' Antibody-Filled Plasma for Coronavirus Treatment

By Daily Pilot

April 15, 2020

Recovered coronavirus patients went from having an illness nobody wants to having the antibodies that could be what the sickest patients need. And local researchers are eager to bank plasma from the recovered patients to make treatments for the potentially devastating virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

Hoag Hospital, which has locations in Newport Beach and Irvine, is experimenting with a federally approved investigational treatment and has already treated its first COVID-19 patient using “convalescent plasma.”

Doctors are guardedly optimistic about the patient’s prognosis and are ready to get in touch with more donors to treat more patients.

The Orange County Health Care Agency on Wednesday reported 1,376 confirmed coronavirus cases countywide, with 22 associated deaths, an increase of 87 cases and three deaths over Tuesday.

Also on Wednesday, 104 people were in area hospitals with the illness, with 45 of them in intensive care, according to reports from 24 hospitals.

Dr. Michael Brant-Zawadzki, a senior physician executive, said Hoag’s first plasma therapy patient is complex: an elderly man with multiple underlying health conditions who is breathing with the assistance of a respirator. But his condition has stabilized after the plasma treatment, with receding infection in his lungs and lessening fever, Brant-Zawadzki said.

The antibody therapy being used at Hoag draws from basic virology: Immune systems build up antibodies when exposed to infection. For infectious diseases ranging from measles to seasonal flu, immunity can often be achieved through a vaccine.

Because there is no vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus, people who have antibodies got them the hard way: by getting sick.

About 85% of such patients will mount an immune response without needing medical attention, Brant-Zawadzki said. Others will become seriously ill.

“If you’re so sick that your own antibodies aren’t enough to fight it off, then using other people’s antibodies who were infected and adding them to your antibodies can help fight off the infection,” he said.

With the current understanding that this coronavirus is fairly stable, doctors like Brant-Zawadzki assume that recovered patients have antibodies that will be effective at boosting passive immunity in other people.

“That’s a good assumption to make,” he said. “That’s how vaccines work.”

Hoag is looking for people who can provide evidence of coronavirus diagnosis and recovery to donate their plasma. One donation can treat two sick patients.

Potential donors can fill out a survey at hoag.org/covid. A hospital staff member may follow up.

Plasma transfusions work like blood transfusions — minus the red blood cells. Plasma therapy was successfully used during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic and to treat SARS and MERS, which are clinically and virologically similar to the COVID-19 virus.

Early small studies show that convalescent plasma, which also is being studied at the Mayo Clinic, has been used to successfully treat the COVID-19 virus in China, where the pandemic originated.

Brant-Zawadzki said there’s more good news at Hoag in the coronavirus fight: The hospital also has used the experimental drug remdesivir on more than 30 patients and hasn’t lost a critically ill patient in two weeks.

Fewer than five patients were in Hoag’s intensive care units as of Sunday. Brant-Zawadzki said this week that he is cautiously optimistic that the hospital had crested a peak blunted by weeks of state and locally mandated physical distancing.

Overall, Hoag has seen about 90 coronavirus patients between its two campuses since late January, including one of the first known COVID-19 patients in California.

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