A clinical trial for a potential treatment for COVID-19 is now underway in Edmonton and Calgary.
In the trial, convalescent plasma is taken from patients who have recovered from COVID-19. That plasma, which contains antibodies to the virus, is then transferred to patients who are being hospitalized for the illness but have not yet been intubated.
“Providing these passive antibodies to patients, we hope will improve their survival and actually prevent them from developing severe disease,” said Dr. Wendy Sligl, a co-investigator in the clinical trial. She is also an infectious diseases and critical care physician at the University of Alberta Hospital.
The convalescent plasma trial, also called CONCOR, is being coordinated nationwide by the Canadian Blood Services and is being overseen in Alberta by Dr. Susan Nahirniak, a transfusion medicine physician. It officially started approximately two weeks ago.
Nahirniak said they are hoping to enrol 75 to 100 patients in Alberta; the goal nationally is 1,200.
However, there are some challenges with signing up patients, particularly because they need to be enrolled in the trial within a certain time frame. So far, Nahirniak said they have not enrolled anyone in the Alberta trial.
“What we’re seeing from some of the other cites is that frequently, people are presenting very late with some of their symptoms. We’ve got a window of 12 days to be able to get them onto the study, randomized and infuse the plasma. We’re actually working with fairly tight timelines,” Nahirniak said.
Another challenge is how the virus can affect some people severely.
“The other thing that we weren’t expecting with this study is how fast some of the patients will come in with symptoms and then progress to intubation. Once you end up needing to go onto a ventilator, you’re excluded from the study.”
Convalescent plasma has been used in the past to treat other illnesses. Nahirniak said there are drugs made from human plasma that are used to treat chickenpox and, according to the Canadian Blood Services, convalescent plasma was used as a treatment for patients during the Spanish flu.
However, at this point, there is no proof the treatment may be effective. There is also no vaccine or approved treatment for COVID-19.
“Given that COVID has really high mortality rates, obviously we’re looking at all kinds of therapies,” said Sligl.
Sligl said there’s a lot of excitement about the clinical trial.
“Patients need to be aware that it is a randomized trial, so we’re going to be comparing transfusion of donor antibodies to standard of care so not everybody that gets enrolled in the trial will get therapy. That’s how these trials work,” she said.
“We’re looking for any kind of treatment that can improve outcome in patients with COVID-19.”
Anyone interested in becoming a donor can register on the Canadian Blood Services website. They must be younger than 67 years old, be previously confirmed positive for COVID-19 by a lab test and be fully recovered from the virus and symptom-free for at least 28 days.
Interested patients can inform their care team they wish to enrol in the trial.
The trial is scheduled to run for one year.