DInitial preparations are currently underway in Frankfurt so that the special plasma can be obtained as soon as possible, says Erhard Seifried, medical director of the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and Immunohematology. But there are still several hurdles. Probably the biggest: only people who have already survived a corona infection and are certainly considered recovered are eligible for such a plasma donation. And that, says Seifried, is not yet a lot in Germany.
He sounds tired and euphoric at the same time. The past few weeks, he says, have been “unimaginable”. “Everything has changed.” Seifried currently works 16 hours a day, seven days a week. He just has to coordinate and reorganize a lot to make sure that even in the corona period, when many blood donation appointments have been canceled, there are still enough blood reserves available. At the same time, he and 15 other transfusion centers in Germany are trying to get a medical procedure on the way to help critically ill corona patients fight the disease.
The theory behind the therapeutic approach is based on a simple assumption: “As a rule, an immune-strong person forms antibodies against the virus in the course of an infection,” says Seifried. These antibodies now need to be filtered out of the blood plasma of people who have recovered from a corona infection. The preparation obtained is to be administered to the very seriously ill, on the assumption that the foreign antibodies contribute to the destruction of the virus and thus an improvement in the state of health.
15 institutes pull together
According to Seifried, the method was already used in the first SARS wave in 2003. At that time, the so-called convalescence plasma was obtained in Frankfurt and administered to patients in Italy. Her condition then improved. “You survived. But that doesn’t mean anything at all. ”Whether this success can actually be attributed to the plasma administration or whether other parameters also influenced it is difficult to assess afterwards, says Seifried. “It is a promising treatment approach. So far, however, there is little experience. ”Similar procedures have so far been used for Ebola treatment. Here too, the foreign antibodies are administered to the sick. The principle is similar to vaccination, says Seifried.
According to the head of the institute, applications for funding from the Federal Ministry of Health are currently ongoing. The ethics committee was also involved in the plans. The Paul Ehrlich Institute, Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedical Medicines, was also involved in the plans early on for scientific advice. 15 Transfusion medical institutes across Germany have agreed to work on the concept, says Seifried. And Europe-wide, too, is working on a “concentrated action” to establish the concept across borders. There is enormous financial and organizational effort behind the project. Because even with plasma preparations, it is important to pay attention to the blood group compatibility of the donor and recipient. The knowledge for the manufacture of such a preparation is known. “We produce plasma for treatment every day, for example for patients with coagulation disorders,” says Seifried. The biggest difference to this standard process, according to its assessment, is that the donor is someone who has been cured by Corona.
It is still unclear whether every recovered person automatically has a sufficient number of antibodies in the blood to be able to obtain the preparation from it. “In order to be able to provide functional plasma therapeutics, the antibodies in the blood would have to be measured,” says Seifried. “The availability of the preparations also depends on the willingness of the volunteers to donate.” The number of those who are considered to be recovering is currently increasing. According to the head of the institute, a few weeks must pass between this finding and the plasma donation. “We have to be one hundred percent sure that the donor no longer carries the virus.” And even if the preparation has been made, it will be checked again for all known viral diseases.
The next few days will be about preparing everything for a possible implementation of the plan. “Regardless of how quickly the funding is approved, we need time until the potential donors have really recovered.” It is still not certain whether all the efforts ultimately achieved the desired treatment success. “The result is open, but there is a lot of plausibility behind it.”