First COVID-19 patients receiving convalescent plasma transfusions

Convalescent plasma is now being supplied to hospitals by NHSBT and the first transfusions have taken place.

7 May 2020

NHS Blood and Transplant has supplied the first units of convalescent plasma to hospitals and the first transfusions have taken place.

So far, 14 units have been supplied to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

The first transfusions have now been carried out though the effectiveness of plasma treatment will not be known until the trial finishes.

Not all 14 units will have been transfused yet. Many more hospitals will take part in the coming months.

Gail Miflin, Chief Medical Officer for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We’re delighted the first patients are receiving convalescent plasma transfusions thanks to the generosity of our donors.

“We’re carrying out a clinical trial to see how effective transfusions are and we wish every patient well.

“Several hospitals are already taking part and this number will quickly grow as more people become eligible to donate plasma.

“Plasmapheresis donation is new to NHSBT but we’re quickly increasing appointments and we’ve taken more than 400 donations so far. We’re rapidly building collection capacity so that if our trial shows the transfusions are effective, we can supply hospitals at a large scale.

“We are collecting in nine cities at the moment and we’re expanding to all 23 of our donor centres, and some new venues in large cities.

“We’re using NHS data to contact people with a positive test result who live near our donor centres. People who have recovered can also give us their details at the NHSBT website.

“Plasma donation is safe and easy and you could save lives – if you get the call, please donate.”

The initial transfusions will be done through the ongoing international REMAP-CAP trial, which was created to evaluate a number of treatment options simultaneously. The NHS Blood and Transplant Clinical Trials Unit is working in collaboration with the main REMAP-CAP team to deliver the convalescent plasma domain of REMAP-CAP in the UK.

Professor Anthony Gordon, Professor of Anaesthesia and Critical Care and NIHR Research Professor at Imperial College London, and the Chief Investigator for REMAP-CAP, said: “The REMAP-CAP trial has been specifically designed to provide answers about the best treatment options for the most seriously ill with COVID-19.

“It is fully adaptive, meaning that new treatments can be added as we learn more, the sample size isn’t fixed and it keeps recruiting until it finds that a treatment is better, worse, or the same as another. It also “learns” from that data so that patients are more likely to receive those interventions that are performing best.”

What is convalescent plasma?

Convalescent plasma is the antibody rich plasma of people who have recovered from COVID-19, which can be given to people who are struggling to develop an immune response to overcome the illness.

The trial will investigate whether plasma transfusions could improve a COVID-19 patient’s speed of recovery and chances of survival.

In parallel to the trial, NHSBT is rapidly building up capacity to collect plasma so that it can deliver at a large scale, if transfusions are shown to help patients.

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

NHSBT is primarily contacting potential convalescent plasma donors directly, using recovered patient data supplied through the wider NHS. It is important that potential donors have recovered and their body has had time to develop a good antibody response. For these reasons, we are currently collecting plasma no sooner than 28 days after recovery.

If people have recovered and they are willing to donate, they can also provide details through an NHSBT website form. We will be prioritising donors who are best placed to help so we there may be short delay in responding to some people.

Donor story

A West Bromwich doctor was one of the first people to donate into a new programme to potentially help people with COVID-19.

Dr Zahid Safraz recovered from COVID-19 and donated his antibody rich plasma to be given to people who are struggling to develop an immune response to overcome the illness.

Dr Safraz, 29, a doctor at Sandwell Hospital, said: “Everybody has been playing their part and I am hoping that by donating plasma I can help too. It’s wonderful to come in and easy to donate.

“I did feel some fear when I was ill. I had aches and headaches and later became breathless. I had a positive test. Now I am back in work I see COVID-19 patients in my work, from the mild to the very ill.”

A plasma donation session