FILE - In this Friday, June 12, 2020 file photo, a doctor holds a bag of blood plasma donated by a COVID-19 survivor at at blood bank in La Paz, Bolivia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of blood plasma for what’s called “emergency use” during the coronavirus pandemic, but the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday AUG. 24, 2020, cautioned that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy. (AP Photo/Juan Karita, FILE)

FILE - In this Friday, June 12, 2020 file photo, a doctor holds a bag of blood plasma donated by a COVID-19 survivor at at blood bank in La Paz, Bolivia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of blood plasma for what’s called “emergency use” during the coronavirus pandemic, but the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday AUG. 24, 2020, cautioned that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy. (AP Photo/Juan Karita, FILE)

UN cautions that coronavirus plasma treatment still experimental

FDA’s action was announced by U.S. President Donald Trump, who called it a ‘breakthrough’

The World Health Organization on Monday cautioned that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy, voicing the concern as a U.S. boost for the treatment has many scientists afraid formal studies will be derailed.

On Sunday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized what’s called “emergency use” of the treatment under its special powers to speed the availability of promising experimental drugs during a public health crisis. The action isn’t the same as approving plasma as safe and effective, and numerous rigorous studies are underway to find out if it really works.

So far, “The results are not conclusive,” WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said during a press briefing. “At the moment, it’s still very low-quality evidence.”

Convalescent plasma is a century-old treatment that was used to fight off flu and measles outbreaks in the days before vaccines, and was tried more recently during the Ebola outbreak. When the body encounters a new germ, it makes proteins called antibodies that are specially targeted to fight the infection. The antibodies float in plasma — the yellowish, liquid part of blood — which is collected from COVID-19 survivors and given to patients infected with coronavirus.

Swaminathan said WHO considered plasma therapy to be experimental and that it should continue to be evaluated. She said the treatment is difficult to standardize: Plasma must be collected individually, and people produce different levels of antibodies.

“Of course, countries can do an emergency listing if they feel the benefits outweigh the risks,” she said. “But that’s usually done when you’re waiting for the more definitive evidence.”

READ MORE: Trump announces plasma treatment authorized for COVID-19

In a letter describing the FDA’s emergency action, the agency’s chief scientist said the treatment “should not be considered a new standard of care” for coronavirus infections, and that more data from studies will be available in the coming months.

But already, so many COVID-19 patients have requested plasma rather than agreeing to be part of a research study that many scientists fear they won’t get a clear answer on whether the treatment really works — and if it does, how and when it should be used for the best outcomes.

Martin Landray, of the University of Oxford said that while the therapy offers “huge promise,” there was still no proof it works.

“There is a huge gap between theory and proven benefit,” he said in a statement.

If just a few thousand patients took part in the research “we would have the answer,” said Landray, who is conducting a plasma study in the U.K. “If effective, convalescent plasma could be rapidly used worldwide. If not, it could be abandoned,”

Stephen Griffin, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Leeds, said there was still considerable uncertainty about the immune system’s response to COVID-19, making any potential use of convalescent plasma challenging.

The FDA’s action was announced during a Sunday press briefing by U.S. President Donald Trump, who called it a “breakthrough.”

“It appears that the lessons from hydroxychloroquine have not been learned,” Griffin said, referring to the malaria drug touted by Trump and others as a potential treatment for the coronavirus.

The FDA also granted hydroxychloroquine an emergency authorization before suspending it months later after several trials showed the drug didn’t work against COVID-19 and raised the risk of heart, kidney, liver and other problems.

____

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Maria Cheng, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusDonald TrumpUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. File photo.
MP Morrison calls Keystone XL permit cancellation ‘devastating news’

Kootenay-Columbia MP reacts to the Conservative Party’s removal of a controversial Ontario MP

Interior Health reported 91 new COVID-19 cases in the region Jan. 20, 2021 and three additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
95 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health, two deaths

Another member of Vernon’s Noric House has passed

North-West Mounted Police barracks at the top of Douglas Street hill, 1885. The man seated at the front was (Colonel Sam Steele. Revelstoke Museum and Archives photo 856)
Glimpses of Revelstoke’s past for Jan. 21

130 years ago: Kootenay Star, Jan. 24, 1891 An accident occurred at… Continue reading

Liam Harrap, reporter for the Revelstoke Review, gives a sneak peak on what’s making news in Revelstoke. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
A sneak peak at the Jan. 21 news paper

Pick up your copy on news stands today

Voting is the number one, bare minimum way to have your voice heard by government. (File photo)
Jocelyn’s Jottings: Want to make change? Here are some suggestions

As a citizen you have a voice, you just have to know who to talk to

Liam Harrap, reporter for the Revelstoke Review, gives a sneak peak on what’s making news in Revelstoke. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
A sneak peak at the Jan. 21 news paper

Pick up your copy on news stands today

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Kevin Lee Barrett is charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault. (Facebook)
Court hears of victim’s injuries in West Kelowna attempted murder trial

Two-week-long trial continues for Kevin Barrett, accused of trying to kill mother in West Kelowna

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

A mother hold hands with her daughter while sharing about her struggles with addiction during Overdose Awareness Day. (Jesse Major/Black Press file)
Overdose and suicide support group starts in Penticton

Penticton was one of the province’s communities hardest hit by the overdose crisis in 2020

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The steel mills in the Hamilton waterfront harbour are shown in Hamilton, Ont., on Tuesday, October 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Dyer: Stay the course on Carbon pricing

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Most Read