For 10 patients severely ill with the new coronavirus, a single dose of antibodies drawn from the blood of people who had recovered from COVID-19 appeared to save lives, shorten the duration of symptoms, improve oxygen levels and speed up viral clearance, newly published research reports.
The preliminary findings emerged from a “pilot study” published Monday in the journal PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. Conducted at three hospitals in China, it promised only to suggest the benefits of harvesting immune antibodies from recovered people (also called convalescent plasma) and administering it to people battling a severe case of COVID-19.
But its findings offer hope that a therapy with a long history and a simple premise could be a powerful treatment for COVID-19 patients fighting for breath. In the early 20th century, doctors transferred the bloodborne antibodies of patients who had recovered from polio, measles, mumps and flu to those who were in still in the grips of those infections. Armed with a veteran infectee’s immune memory of the virus, patients getting convalescent plasma appeared to recover more quickly and completely than patients who did not get the treatment, physicians observed.
With a vaccine at least a year away and no clear treatments available for COVID-19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on March 24 approved the use of such therapy as an experimental treatment in clinical trials and for critical patients without other options.