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This game-changing coronavirus therapy is already saving lives

Updated Apr 21st, 2020 1:15PM EDT
Coronavirus Cure
Image: Robin Utrecht/Shutterstock

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  • There’s no magical drug to treat the novel coronavirus at this time, although several promising medicines are in clinical trials.
  • The only game-changing therapy is something the medical community has used for more than 100 years to treat infectious diseases, and it still works.
  • Plasma transfusions from COVID-19 survivors are saving lives, as the transferred antibodies have been able to speed up the recovery times of critical patients.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

There’s no miracle cure for the novel coronavirus disease right now and that’s why the best thing to do to avoid the condition is to self-isolate for a while longer. You’re not just buying yourself time, but also giving researchers time to evaluate the various drugs that are used in clinical trials to determine whether they can alleviate COVID-19 symptoms, prevent complications, and hasten recovery times. Hydroxychloroquine may or may not work, but it’s not a game-changer for the time being, no matter what you hear on TV. The promising drug remdesivir isn’t a miracle cure either until the science says so. But we already have a game-changing therapy right now, one that’s already saving lives in trials and that could become the main COVID-19 therapy that can fix various problems until a vaccine is ready. It’s antibody-filed plasma from patients who have survived the disease.

If plasma treatment for COVID-19 sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve talked about it a few times already. A plasma trial is underway in New York and other places around the world. The therapy also eliminated the virus in a Chinese patient who was infectious for 49 straight days. The science is the same and applies to any infectious disease — the idea being to take advantage of a robust immune system’s response and cure another patient whose body can’t cope with the infection.

“The first Nobel Prize in medicine was given for the discovery that you could treat a disease … with antibodies,” Dr. Arturo Casadevall told CBS News. “It was used in the 1918 flu epidemic. … And more recently, it’s been used in the SARS outbreak in 2003.”

Casadavall is the chair of the Molecular Microbiology and Immunology Department at Johns Hopkins, and he’s been studying the use of antibodies for more than three decades. He told CBS that researchers are now looking at the timing of plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients. “We think you can get much more bang for the buck if you treat people early,” he said.

CBS details two cases that recovered after getting the plasma treatment. A 52-year-old man showed no improvement after doctors at Orlando Health tried several drugs, including hydroxychloroquine. His condition declined rapidly and he was put into a medically induced coma. His wife sought a plasma donor, and luckily she found a match quickly. It took three days after the transfusion for the patient to wake up from the coma. He’s now able to talk and was expected to be discharged this past Monday.

A different case involves an even older patient, a 76-year-old man whose case worsened. “I mean, we’re down to the time where we’re asked to say — possibly say goodbye,” one of his sons said, with another adding they had started looking at funeral homes. Luckily, they found a compatible donor and the patient began showing signs of improvement over the weekend. He could be coming home very soon.

More research for plasma therapy is required, but the “drug” seems to be a clear winner for treating COVID-19 cases. There are a couple of notable downsides to it, however.

First of all, patients need to find a compatible donor whose blood type matches theirs. Secondly, there’s not enough supply to go around. A plasma donation can save up to three people, the report notes, that’s why it’s critical for people who have recovered from COVID-19 to consider donating plasma if their local hospitals perform such treatments.

But there’s also a considerable upside. The more people decide to donate plasma, the more people will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies and authorities could get a better picture of the actual number of infected people in the wild. Many people who recover from COVID-19 may have been asymptomatic the whole time, and they won’t know whether they’ve been infected until they’re tested for antibodies.

A few days ago, reports from South Korea said the country is working to create a medicine based on plasma antibodies, but that drug wouldn’t be available to patients until sometime next year.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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