New approaches to a COVID-19 treatment

Australian research into the use of convalescent plasma in clinical trials for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 should be supported according to a leading immunologist from Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics.

Professor Michael Good AO, a member of the National COVID-19 Health and Research Advisory Committee and chair of the working group on convalescent plasma therapy, said the working group’s conclusions included the active support of research into trials of convalescent plasma for treatment and prophylaxis.

“Convalescent plasma therapy involves the transfusion of blood plasma collected from patients recovered from COVID-19. As they will have produced antibodies against the disease, the aim is to provide passive immunity in infected patients, as opposed to active immunity in patients that would be induced by a vaccine.”

Convalescent plasma is not a new therapy and has been used and trialled in influenza, SARS-CoV-1 and Ebola infection, as well as in many established diseases such as diphtheria and tetanus.

Professor Good said while only a few small studies had been published in China and Korea on the use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19, they were not controlled trials so their efficacy could not be validated.

The working group also recommended that Australian research into the use of hyperimmune globulins (antibodies enriched from plasma) as a potential treatment for COVID-19 should be supported as well as treatment using monoclonal antibodies.

“Monoclonal antibodies are made by identicalimmune cells that are all clones of a unique parent cell. Major benefits of them as a treatment is that their production is scalable and uniform.

“Biotechnology affords the development of monoclonal antibodies of very high affinity for the virus without the need to collect plasma from donors who have previously been exposed to SARS-CoV-2.”

The National COVID-19 Health and Research Advisory Committee provides evidence-based advice on Australia’s health response to the COVID-19 pandemic with the aim of preventing new cases, optimising the treatment of current cases and assisting in optimising overall health system readiness to deal with the pandemic.

Professor Good AO heads the Laboratory of Vaccines for the Developing World, Institute for Glycomics at Griffith University. He is a past Chair of the NHMRC Council, a past Director of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research and a former President of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes.