In the response to a COVID-19 infection, people fight off the virus by producing antibodies that attack and neutralize it. These antibodies, which are found in the blood of recovered patients, can be used to help others who are critically ill, as well to help prevent new infections. Effective antiviral therapy is crucial to defeat COVID-19.
Michele Donato, M.D., at the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, where the treatment is being performed, says “It really is a race against time,” People are getting sick right now, and we are working night and day to save as many lives as possible.”
Scientists at the Center for Discovery and Innovation at Hackensack Meridian Health, have developed a high-titer test to assess the presence and levels of the antibodies. The CDI experts also previously developed a diagnostic test for detecting the virus, which has been used to diagnose more than a thousand patients so far in the Hackensack Meridian Health network.
“This is applied science in ‘real-time,’ as this pandemic continues to spread,” said David S. Perlin, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of the CDI. “Our scientists at the CDI are responding to an unmet medical need of the highest order, and we’re hoping to save lives.”
“Research at Hackensack Meridian Health is more important than ever, and we are hopeful it will give us the edge against this pandemic,” said Ihor Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, president of Hackensack Meridian Health’s Northern Region, and the chief research officer of the network.
About the Treatment
The treatment theory is not new. Passive antibody therapy has been used since the 1890s to help patients survive deadly diseases for which drugs did not exist such as measles, SARS, Ebola, H1N1, flu and polio.
During the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003, an 80-person trial of convalescent serum in Hong Kong found that people treated with antibody-rich plasma within two weeks of showing symptoms had a higher chance of being discharged from the hospital than those who weren’t treated. Most recently, in China, a small uncontrolled study involving 5 people infected with COVID-19 demonstrated that it helped those in serious distress with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) – one of the hallmarks of this new scourge.
It’s called “convalescent serum” – the antibodies responding to the virus in one patient can potentially work in the bloodstream of other patients. Until new antiviral drugs or vaccines are available, this is likely the best front-line treatment available.
This therapy can work, and there is evidence it can work now.
But we need to identify the best donors for therapy, our “super donors” – people with a lot of virus neutralizing antibodies, and who are not going to still spread the virus. For this reason, we need to screen lot of virus-free survivors to find the very best candidates for successful therapy.