April 21, 2020

UCalgary researchers join national effort to use plasma as a treatment for COVID-19

Study to investigate whether plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients can help others still battling the virus

Calgarians being treated for COVID-19 in hospital could soon have the option to participate in a national clinical trial investigating whether a treatment tried a century ago will work to address the coronavirus pandemic.

The treatment involves injecting antibody-rich plasma from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus into people who are currently infected. Similar studies have been tried in small numbers in terms of sites and participants.

Dr. Davinder Sidhu, MD, is the trial site lead in Calgary for the research project at the Foothills Medical Centre, which is part of a clinical trial involving 25 sites across Canada. The study aims to recruit 1,000 participants across the country.

Davinder Sidhu

Davinder Sidhu is Calgary site lead for a clinical trial investigating whether blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients can help others still battling the virus.

Courtesy Davinder Sidhu

“We are moving quickly to get everything in place,” says Sidhu, a pathologist and clinical associate professor in the departments of Medicine and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine. “The study involves patients who are 16 years old or older, who are admitted to hospital and receiving supplemental oxygen for respiratory complications due to COVID-19 infection."

The blood plasma from those who have recovered from COVID-19 will be collected and distributed by Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec. Alberta Precision Laboratories will ensure plasma compatibility with patients enrolled in both the Calgary and Edmonton arms of the study.

The idea that plasma could be an effective treatment for infectious diseases dates back to the 1800s. The approach has been tried during major epidemics before, including the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1920, and more recently during the Ebola outbreak in Africa, and during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. Plasma therapy has proven to be an effective prevention and treatment until a vaccine becomes available.

Critical to the study’s success is the willingness of Canadians who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma. There is a 28-day waiting period for plasma donors, to ensure they have cleared the infection. The study is anticipated to start in the next few weeks. It is led by McMaster University with partners including the universities of Calgary, Alberta, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and British Columbia.

“No previous studies of plasma to treat COVID-19 have been as large as this one,” says Sidhu. “We expect this is going to provide a lot of important information about the use of plasma from an infected patient as a treatment for COVID-19.”

Davinder Sidhu is a clinical associate professor in the departments of Medicine and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. He is the division head, Transfusion Medicine and Cellular Therapy, Alberta South Sector, Alberta Precision Laboratories. He is also the program director for the General Pathology Residency Program.

UCalgary resources on COVID-19