Isolating antibodies from blood plasma from healed donors is a well-known method of treating disease. It is also being looked at in the fight against Covid-19. Various studies are underway worldwide – including the DAWN study led by KU Leuven – to map whether the treatment is effective and under which circumstances it works best.
The Dutch government did not wait for the results and invested 10 million euros in stockpiling a stock of ‘convalescent plasma’ from cured covid patients. The Sanquin company drew blood from 16,000 donors for this purpose.
Production takes place at a Belgian subsidiary of Sanquin, Plasma Industries Belgium, which was founded in 1957 as part of the Red Cross. The company has produced the first batch of semi-finished products for the treatment of 4,000 patients.
The product is not yet ready for use, says CEO Peter Janssen. ‘Time is still needed for further processing in which we have to purify, package and test the plasma. This first lot will not be fully ready for treatment until October. ‘
Hopefully, that will be in time to combat the virus’s expected onset in the fall. ‘By the end of this year, we should deliver 40,000 25-milliliter vials to Dutch hospitals. We do not yet know how many people can be treated with it. That depends on the concentration, which is still the subject of research. ‘
The American Mayo Clinic will soon announce the results of a large study involving 48,000 patients. ‘With that data, we will know better which groups of patients do or do not benefit from plasma treatment, and in which phase the therapy produces the best results’, says immunologist and lung specialist Bart Lambrecht (UZ Gent / VIB).
A limited study indicates that the success rate is greatest when plasma is administered at an early stage of the disease or even preventively. The method can be useful to protect certain risk groups.
Our country has not yet invested in the construction of a stock of plasma. ‘We did receive a good response to our call to donors to donate plasma for scientific research. We now have about 800 doses in stock, but we are asking for even more covid covid patients’, says the Red Cross Flanders. If the plasma treatment appears to be effective and there is surplus plasma, it can be used for transfusions.
Treatment with antibodies is an expensive and difficult method. ‘You cannot treat the entire population like this,’ says Janssen. ‘The biggest bottleneck is that we have to find enough donors. There is not much time for this, because we know that the number of antibodies in the blood decreases significantly after a few months. So we have to approach them quickly. ‘
In addition, only male donors are allowed, because women can have antibodies in the blood as a result of pregnancy that can cause a dangerous immune reaction.
Plasma Industries Belgium has 300 employees in Neder-over-Heembeek and Buggenhout in our country. The company mainly works for pharmaceutical companies that supply plasma from which certain proteins must be isolated. A few months ago, the company won a major multi-year contract to produce proteins that prevent infections in organ transplants.