KARACHI: A new clinical trial evaluating the efficacy and safety of plasma therapy, an emerging form of treatment for the coronavirus, in Pakistani Covid-19 patients is under way at the Aga Khan University (AKU).

The convalescent plasma therapy involves separating blood donated by recovered Covid-19 patients into plasma — a clear straw-coloured liquid that contains antibodies and proteins that help fight infections.

The plasma is then injected into a severely ill patient whose immune system may not be able to generate the antibodies needed to combat the virus. A single donation can potentially treat two patients.

There is currently no vaccine for the coronavirus and no approved form of treatment beyond managing its symptoms.

The trial will generate evidence on whether the plasma therapy, said to be the only experimental treatment currently available for the virus, can help treat those suffering from acute complications from the virus.

Researchers will perform three pre-procedural investigations on each donor to ensure their blood is safe from other infections and to check their suitability for the process of aphaeresis, which collects plasma. Like a typical blood donation, the process is painless after the initial prick and lasts approximately two hours.

Once plasma is transfused into a patient, the team will monitor the response to the treatment and assess its effectiveness through clinical and laboratory tests. Informed consent will be sought from all potential donors as well as those receiving the treatment.

“Plasma therapy can potentially help treat patients with moderate to severe Covid-19 infection,” said Dr Natasha Ali, who is part of a team comprising faculty members of the departments of pathology and laboratory medicine, and internal medicine, working on the trial. “This trial is part of university’s science-based approach to evaluating novel treatments that can help save lives during this pandemic.”

The university is also participating in Solidarity, the international clinical trial launched by the World Health Organisation and its partners, to find effective treatments for the coronavirus.

The study has been approved by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan and Pakistan’s National Bioethics Committee.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2020