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Plasma bag next to donor © NHSBT

Professor David Roberts, who is also Associate Medical Director, NHS Blood and Transplant, is co-leading an NHS Blood and Transplant programme to collect convalescent plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to support a national clinical trial. The UK Department of Health and Social Care announced the programme on Saturday 25 April.

Professor Hugh Watkins, who heads the Radcliffe Department of Medicine said “We are keen to bring the expertise and facilities we have here at the department to help solve what is likely to be the greatest public health crisis of our generation.”

“Transfusion of antibody-containing plasma from recovered patients has been an effective treatment strategy for other viral diseases, so this is an important trial.”

The transfusions will be done through the existing REMAP-CAP trial and further trial options are being explored.

Convalescent plasma is plasma from people who have recovered from an infection. Recovered patients’ plasma may contain antibodies that their immune systems have produced in fighting the virus. That plasma can be transfused to patients whose immune systems are struggling to develop their own antibodies. The trials will investigate whether transfusions may improve a patient’s speed of recovery and chances of survival. Plasma can also be collected and frozen ahead of any second wave of COVID-19.

Although there is some evidence of patient benefit from the use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19, the safety and effectiveness of convalescent plasma transfusions needs to be confirmed by a robust clinical trial.

The principal investigators

Professor Roberts, who is a Professor of Haematology at Oxford University as well as a consultant haematologist, said: "In previous flu and coronavirus epidemics, some reports suggested antibodies from donors who had recovered from the disease could be used to treat acutely ill patients.

“We are investigating whether this plasma can improve survival and reduce ventilation and intensive care unit stay in COVID-19 patients. This is an exciting development as there is no proven treatment for COVID-19.”

The trial in intensive care patients is jointly led by Dr Lise Estcourt and Prof David Roberts (NHSBT Clinical Trials Unit and University of Oxford), Prof David Menon (University of Cambridge) and Dr Manu Shankar Hari (Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London).

Read more about the trial on the NHS Blood and Transplant website.