Plasma firms join forces on “unbranded” coronavirus treatment


A group of companies that specialise in plasma-derived drugs will pool their resources to try to develop a therapy for COVID-19 based on antibodies taken from people who have fought off the infection.

Led by Takeda and CSL Behring, the consortium also includes Biotest, BPL Group, LFB and Octapharma and will start work immediately on an “unbranded” hyperimmune immunoglobulin drug for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

All the companies operate plasma collection networks that will swing into action to source the virus-neutralising antibodies needed to develop the drug, which would provide passive immunity for people who are seriously ill with the infection.

Passive immunotherapy could potentially be developed more quickly than a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, and also starts working straight away while active immunisation with vaccine can take time to develop.

The therapy could throw a much-needed lifeline for the group of patients who develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and pneumonia as a complication of COVID-19 infection, according to the plasma companies.

“Unprecedented times call for bold moves,” said Julie Kim, head of Takeda’s plasma-derived therapies business. The collaboration can “accelerate bringing a potential therapy to market as well as increase the potential supply.”

Experience from the earlier and much less severe SARS-CoV-1 outbreak in 2002 to 2004 has shown that plasma can be used to harvest antibodies that can neutralise coronaviruses.

The approach has also been used in China for coronavirus patients, with suggestions it can lessen the severity or shorten the length of illness caused by COVID-19.

The founders of the group would like to see other plasma companies and organisations step forward and join the initiative and create “a reliable, scalable and sustainable option” for hyperimmune immunoglobulin treatment, continued CSL Behring’s head of R&D Bill Mezzanotte.

“We will also collaborate with government and academic efforts as a single alliance whenever we can, including important activities like clinical trials,” he added.

The partners will work together to collect “convalescent” plasma collection from recovered volunteers from a network of more than 500 centres (see this link for your nearest collection centre), as well as clinical trial development and manufacturing.

Last week, the FDA gave the go-ahead to trials of convalescent plasma and hyperimmune immunoglobulin-based therapy for COVID-19 in development at the Mayo Clinic and American Red Cross, and said it was working with “industry and its government partners to accelerate the development and availability of hyperimmune globulin” for the virus.

The regulator said there is “some limited data” that support the efficacy of the passive immunity approach, which is already being made available to some patients in the US on a compassionate-use basis.

“People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 for at least two weeks are encouraged to consider donating plasma, which could potentially help save the lives of up to four patients,” it added.

As of yesterday, the global death toll from coronavirus was over 74,000, with around 1.3 million confirmed cases.

Image credit: CSL Behring