Secret to treating Covid-19 could be in your blood

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Secret to treating Covid-19 could be in your blood

Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo visits GC Pharma in Yongin, Gyeonggi, last month to examine the development of the plasma-derived Covid-19 treatment. [NEWS1]

Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo visits GC Pharma in Yongin, Gyeonggi, last month to examine the development of the plasma-derived Covid-19 treatment. [NEWS1]

As the race to develop a Covid-19 treatment continues, a recent surge in blood donors among recovered patients has given momentum to the development of plasma-derived treatments with clinical trials set to start next month.
 
As of Friday afternoon, 169 out of 10,800 completely recovered Covid-19 patients have donated their blood to support GC Pharma and the National Institute of Health's efforts to develop a plasma-derived Covid-19 treatment. 
 
The number has increased tenfold over the past two weeks after the government appealed to recovered patients for cooperation earlier this month, stating that they are struggling with a shortage of blood donations needed for the development of Covid-19 treatment.
 
With just 12 donors on June 3, the government started to push for more recovered patients to register. 
 
Even Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called for plasma donations on June 12. "We ask for the active participation of more than 10,000 completely recovered patients,” Chung said.
 
A GC Pharma researcher develops a plasma-derived treatment in Yongin, Gyeonggi. [NEWS1]

A GC Pharma researcher develops a plasma-derived treatment in Yongin, Gyeonggi. [NEWS1]

GC Pharma, the company working with the government to develop a treatment, is confident that it now has enough plasma to begin serious development. 
 
"Thanks to the significant increase in plasma donors, we will be able to start clinical trials in July as planned," GC Pharma said.
 
Plasma-derived treatments are made by extracting proteins related to the immune system which contain various antibodies from the plasma of recovered Covid-19 patients. Since the treatment needs a high concentration of neutralizing antibodies, the first priority was to secure enough blood from at least 130 to 150 completely recovered patients.  
 
Less than a month after the government asked for donations, the number has reached the target so GC Pharma’s plasma-derived treatment can enter the clinical trial phase in July, as initially planned.
 
But not all 169 volunteers will be eligible to donate their plasma.
 
Recovered patients do not have identical plasma. How effectively the antibodies can neutralize the virus will vary from patient to patient, as will eligibility to donate. 
 
Possible donors are tested for Covid-19 and other infectious diseases during their first visit, and checked for Covid-19 neutralizing antibodies. If the results from the first visit show that the patient is eligible for plasma donations, the person has to make a second visit within a week to donate about 500 milliliters (18 fluid ounces) of blood.
 
Currently, only 15 samples have been collected. Given the situation, the more plasma donors, the better, considering development and future production.
 
GC Pharma researchers develop a plasma-derived treatment in Yongin, Gyeonggi. [NEWS1]

GC Pharma researchers develop a plasma-derived treatment in Yongin, Gyeonggi. [NEWS1]

"Fortunately, we have secured 15 complete plasma samples from the donors, but we are waiting for more donations from fully recovered Covid-19 patients, as the more plasma we secure, the faster the development of the treatment,” an official from the GC Pharma said.
 
Plasma-derived treatments are faster to develop than other treatments.
 
“Unlike the development of new drugs, the process of developing this plasma treatment will be much simpler, as the production mechanism is the same as other drugs composed of general immune antibodies that we have already commercialized,” said Shin Woo-sub, a public relations manager at GC Pharma.  
 
GC Pharma is also looking into whether the treatment can skip Phase 1 clinical trials. Since the treatment is based on antibodies produced by plasma cells that have previously been used in the treatment of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, there is already a certain level of efficacy and safety proven. 
 
In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Mayo Clinic and national blood banking community conducted a study to test the safety of transfusing convalescent plasma — a different procedure involving a blood transfusion — to 20,000 Covid-19 patients. A report from Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a medical journal that covers internal medicine released last week, mentioned that convalescent plasma represents a promising treatment strategy, and that transfusion of convalescent plasma was safe in hospitalized adults with Covid-19.
 
Recovered Covid-19 patients wishing to donate their plasma can visit one of four government-designated medical centers: Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital, Kyungpook National University Hospital, Daegu Fatima Hospital and Korea University Ansan Hospital.
 
When developed, the plasma-derived treatment will be distributed to local Covid-19 patients for free.  
 
BY KIM YEON-AH   [kim.yeonah@joongang.co.kr]

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