OU Medicine Participating in COVID-19 Clinical Trial

Published: Friday, April 10, 2020

As COVID-19 surges its way across the world, public and private agencies are frantically searching for treatment options for the rapidly increasing numbers of patients. On Monday, April 6, OU Medicine received word it had been approved to participate in a clinical trial of a promising therapy for the hardest hit patients.

The trial, called “Expanded Access to Convalescent Plasma for the Treatment of Patients with COVID-19”, is a collaboration with Mayo Clinic. Last Friday, Mayo Clinic received FDA approval to enroll other institutions. OU Medicine immediately signed up and received approval to begin trying this therapy on its most ill COVID-19 patients starting on April 6.

Convalescent Plasma therapy involves taking plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient and giving it to a current patient. “The theory is that the plasma from the recovered person will have significant amounts of antibodies to the virus,” explained Jordan Metcalf, M.D., OU Medicine pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist. “This should make it easier for the patient to combat the infection and keep the virus from infecting other cells. Then, the patient can begin healing.”

To date, there have only been small studies on this therapy, Metcalf said, but the results have been promising, including improvement in the patient’s symptoms and respiratory status within one to three days. For many of the patients, the need for ventilation or oxygen therapy decreased quickly. Currently, the patients eligible for the study must be severely ill or in a life-threatening situation.

“OU Medicine and OU Health Sciences Center are aggressively working to fight COVID-19 from mitigating the spread, educating Oklahomans, getting new treatments to patients, to discovering the cure,” said Jason Sanders, M.D., M.B.A, Provost and Senior Vice President, OU Health Sciences Center and Vice Chair of OU Medicine, Inc. Board of Directors. “This new clinical trial therapy for Oklahoma is an extremely positive step towards life-saving treatment and contributes towards Oklahomans discovering a new life after the COVID-19 surge.”

For a patient to receive this therapy, he or she must have a compatible blood type with the donor. With Oklahoma still having relatively low numbers of recovered patients, finding donors can be a challenge, Metcalf said. The Oklahoma Blood Institute is currently screening donors in central Oklahoma for this program.

“It can be challenging matching the right donor with the right patient,” Metcalf explained, “so we are encouraging any eligible donors to please check with the OBI about the possibility of donating plasma. Even if there is not a current patient the donor matches with, the plasma can be safely frozen and stored so it will be ready to use when needed. These donors can help save lives.”

Metcalf said as soon as OU Medicine was approved as a site for convalescent plasma, he immediately received requests to enroll current hospitalized patients. Donors have been identified for the hospital system’s first and second patients, which should be treated with the plasma by the end of this week.

Metcalf explained that while convalescent plasma is a new potential therapy for COVID-19 patients, it is not a new concept. “Scientists and physicians have been using this method of treatment for 100 years. It was one of the original therapies for bacterial pneumonia before antibiotics were used.”

There is reasonable evidence from small studies to show promise. He added that this therapy has been used on other coronaviruses like MERS and SARS, “and it seemed to have benefits, providing hope for our fight against COVID-19.”

Potential donors can find more information at www.uscovidplasma.org 

Recovered COVID-19 patients can register as potential convalescent plasma donors through the Oklahoma Blood Institute’s registry at my.bio-linked.org. BioLinked allows users to submit confidential health and social information via a secure site and to list themselves as potential volunteers for medical research.