FILE - In this Friday, June 12, 2020 file photo, a doctor holds a bag of blood plasma donated by a COVID-19 survivor at at blood bank in La Paz, Bolivia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of blood plasma for what’s called “emergency use” during the coronavirus pandemic, but the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday AUG. 24, 2020, cautioned that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy. (AP Photo/Juan Karita, FILE)

UN cautions that coronavirus plasma treatment still experimental

FDA’s action was announced by U.S. President Donald Trump, who called it a ‘breakthrough’

The World Health Organization on Monday cautioned that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy, voicing the concern as a U.S. boost for the treatment has many scientists afraid formal studies will be derailed.

On Sunday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized what’s called “emergency use” of the treatment under its special powers to speed the availability of promising experimental drugs during a public health crisis. The action isn’t the same as approving plasma as safe and effective, and numerous rigorous studies are underway to find out if it really works.

So far, “The results are not conclusive,” WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said during a press briefing. “At the moment, it’s still very low-quality evidence.”

Convalescent plasma is a century-old treatment that was used to fight off flu and measles outbreaks in the days before vaccines, and was tried more recently during the Ebola outbreak. When the body encounters a new germ, it makes proteins called antibodies that are specially targeted to fight the infection. The antibodies float in plasma — the yellowish, liquid part of blood — which is collected from COVID-19 survivors and given to patients infected with coronavirus.

Swaminathan said WHO considered plasma therapy to be experimental and that it should continue to be evaluated. She said the treatment is difficult to standardize: Plasma must be collected individually, and people produce different levels of antibodies.

“Of course, countries can do an emergency listing if they feel the benefits outweigh the risks,” she said. “But that’s usually done when you’re waiting for the more definitive evidence.”

READ MORE: Trump announces plasma treatment authorized for COVID-19

In a letter describing the FDA’s emergency action, the agency’s chief scientist said the treatment “should not be considered a new standard of care” for coronavirus infections, and that more data from studies will be available in the coming months.

But already, so many COVID-19 patients have requested plasma rather than agreeing to be part of a research study that many scientists fear they won’t get a clear answer on whether the treatment really works — and if it does, how and when it should be used for the best outcomes.

Martin Landray, of the University of Oxford said that while the therapy offers “huge promise,” there was still no proof it works.

“There is a huge gap between theory and proven benefit,” he said in a statement.

If just a few thousand patients took part in the research “we would have the answer,” said Landray, who is conducting a plasma study in the U.K. “If effective, convalescent plasma could be rapidly used worldwide. If not, it could be abandoned,”

Stephen Griffin, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Leeds, said there was still considerable uncertainty about the immune system’s response to COVID-19, making any potential use of convalescent plasma challenging.

The FDA’s action was announced during a Sunday press briefing by U.S. President Donald Trump, who called it a “breakthrough.”

“It appears that the lessons from hydroxychloroquine have not been learned,” Griffin said, referring to the malaria drug touted by Trump and others as a potential treatment for the coronavirus.

The FDA also granted hydroxychloroquine an emergency authorization before suspending it months later after several trials showed the drug didn’t work against COVID-19 and raised the risk of heart, kidney, liver and other problems.

____

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Maria Cheng, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusDonald TrumpUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Delta declared a ‘Bee City’

Designation represents a long-term commitment to protect pollinators and their habitats

Break and enter at Surrey home leads to large drug seizure

Suspects were gone but officers find ‘large quantity of drugs and cash’ inside residence

NDP asks Elections BC to investigate alleged Liberal voter fraud in Surrey-Fleetwood

Campaign organizer MLA candidate Garry Thind allegedly solicited personal information from voters to request mail-in ballots over the internet

Another death as COVID-19 outbreak at Delta Hospital climbs to 18 cases

Total of 12 patients and six staff in one unit have tested positive for COVID-19: Fraser Health

Semiahmoo Secondary, SFN partner for Orange Shirt Day

South Surrey high school, First Nation also planning future collaborations, vice-principal says

Orange Shirt Society launches first textbook on residential school history

Phyllis Webstad and Joan Sorley worked on the 156-page book to help educate students

Horgan vows to replace B.C.’s shared senior care rooms in 10 years

$1.4 billion construction on top of staff raises, single-site work

Burnaby RCMP search for suspects after man racially abused, has coffee thrown on him

Police treating the incident as a hate crime and assault

More sex abuse charges laid against B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’

Investigators now focussing efforts on alleged victims within the Glad Tidings Church community

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Orange Shirt Day lessons of past in today’s classrooms

Phyllis Webstad, who attended St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in British Columbia, is credited for creating the movement

Greens’ Furstenau fires at NDP, Liberals on pandemic recovery, sales tax promise

She also criticized the NDP economic recovery plan, arguing it abandons the tourism industry

U.S. Presidential Debate Takeaways: An acrid tone from the opening minute

Here are key takeaways from the first of three scheduled presidential debates before Election Day on Nov. 3

Most Read