Convalescent plasma treatment for COVID-19 introduced to ASCOT and REMAP-CAP trials

Convalescent plasma has been introduced to the AustralaSian COVID-19 Trial (ASCOT) and Randomised, Embedded, Multi-factorial, Adaptive Platform Trial for Community-Acquired Pneumonia (REMAP-CAP) clinical trials in a bid to identify the best strategy to treat patients hospitalised with COVID-19. 

The first patient was recruited to ASCOT earlier this week at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, while REMAP-CAP is on schedule to recruit critically ill patients in partnering Intensive Care Units in the coming days.

As part of the immune response, people recovering from COVID-19 can develop antibodies targeting parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These antibodies are contained in the liquid part of the blood, the plasma, and can be given to patients newly infected with COVID-19 via plasma transfusion, potentially resulting in more rapid control and clearance of the virus.

ASCOT aims to discover which existing treatments are most effective in patients hospitalised with COVID-19 in Australia and New Zealand, and whether they will prevent patients deteriorating to the point of needing a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit.

REMAP-CAP is an Australian-led global study that explores multiple treatments for critically ill patients with COVID-19, including antiviral medications, immune function modulators, anticoagulation therapy and others. Convalescent plasma is the latest treatment to join the study. 

ASCOT Principal Investigator, Associate Professor Steven Tong, a Royal Melbourne Hospital infectious diseases clinician and co-lead of clinical research at the Doherty Institute, said this was an exciting development for ASCOT.

“Convalescent plasma has been used historically for the 1918 Spanish and the 2009 influenza pandemics, pneumococcal pneumonia, and also for previous coronaviruses – SARS and MERS,” Associate Professor Tong said.

“Over 20,000 patients in the United States have safely received convalescent plasma for COVID-19. While conceptually attractive, we still need clinical trials to demonstrate efficacy for patients with COVID-19.”

In further advances in treating COVID-19 in Australia, the antiviral drug remdesivir has shown to be effective in reducing the time to recovery, and is now considered the standard of care for patients in hospital with hypoxia (low oxygen levels). In addition, dexamethasone – a steroid agent – has been shown in a large overseas trial to reduce mortality of patients and is being broadly used as part of standard of care in hospitals.

“ASCOT will therefore trial convalescent plasma in addition to standard of care,” said Associate Professor Tong.

Monash University researcher, Associate Professor Zoe McQuilten, is leading the convalescent plasma arms of both ASCOT and REMAP-CAP. 

“The convalescent plasma arms of these two trials complement each other,” said Associate Professor McQuilten.

“REMAP-CAP focusses on critically ill COVID-19 patients that require intensive care, and ASCOT enrols patients who are hospitalised with COVID-19, but do not currently require intensive care.

“Understanding the role of convalescent plasma in different stages of the disease course will help clinicians in Australia and around the world give the right treatments to the right people.”

ASCOT and REMAP-CAP are working closely with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood who are urging those who have fully recovered from COVID-19 to donate their plasma.

“With the rise in COVID-19 infections in Melbourne and the increase in hospitalised patients, it’s more important than ever for those who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate convalescent plasma,” said Dr James Daly, Medical Director Pathology Services at Lifeblood.

In particular, Lifeblood is looking for males who have fully recovered from COVID-19 to donate their plasma.

“Studies suggest male donors have higher levels of antibodies. This means their plasma may be more potent,” he said.

“Donating plasma is a simple, powerful act that could help a patient struggling to fight the disease. It’s a real opportunity for people who have battled COVID-19 to become part of a potential solution.”