SickKids researchers studying plasma of COVID-19 survivors
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted millions of people around the world. While the global search for a vaccine continues, there is an urgent need to find a safe and effective therapy to ease the symptoms of those who may be currently affected by this virus.
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is playing a leading role in Convalescent plasma in COVID-19 Research (CONCOR), a cross-country effort to better understand and create a therapy to treat COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) through the collection and transfusion of a blood product called convalescent plasma.
Antibodies, which are developed when the immune system successfully fights off a virus, are found in plasma. The antibodies of COVID-19 survivors could hold valuable information about the virus and may even represent an effective treatment.
SickKids researchers are leading two CONCOR studies – a paediatric clinical trial to determine the efficacy and safety of plasma transfusions as a therapeutic option for children, and a longitudinal, observational study of the COVID-19 survivors who donate plasma. These two parts of CONCOR will be complemented by an adult trial at 10 research centres and 50 hospitals across Canada.
“Convalescent plasma transfusions have been used in similar contagious viruses, such as SARS, H1N1 and Ebola,” says Dr. Julia Upton, the lead of the paediatric clinical trial, Staff Physician in the Division of Immunology and Allergy, and Medical Director of the Clinical Research Centre at SickKids. “While there is encouraging evidence that most children who get COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and recover, there is a small percentage of patients who will get a more severe form of the disease. It’s crucial we investigate possible therapeutic avenues that can help kids who may become seriously ill.”
Upton, who is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto, is leading the trial with colleagues at CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal. Together, and at other paediatric hospitals across Canada, they will recruit 100 patients up to age 18 who have been hospitalized with COVID-19. The research team recently received Health Canada approval and anticipate beginning patient enrolment in the coming weeks.
In addition to a possible therapeutic, the donors in both trials will be providing a wealth of information about how the human body responds to this novel virus.
Dr. Rulan Parekh, Staff Physician in the Division of Nephrology and Associate Chief of Clinical Research at SickKids, will be leading the long-term observational study of the plasma donors over age 18 to understand the impact of clinical characteristics on their immune system and the duration of protective immunity from COVID-19 infection.
“This is a unique opportunity to complement the clinical trials by understanding all that we can about the virus through the donors who are generously providing plasma across Canada,” says Parekh, who is also a Professor in the Departments of Paediatrics and Epidemiology at the University of Toronto. “It is our hope that the results of this research will improve the outcomes of patients with COVID-19, now and in the future”
The SickKids research team is working closely with colleagues from hospitals and universities across Canada, including CHU Sainte-Justine, Sunnybrook Hospital, the University Health Network, the University of Toronto, University of Montreal, McMaster University, and many others. Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Quebec will be coordinating the national effort to recruit and screen donors to participate in the studies.
Together, these researchers hope to provide greater understanding into a virus that has drastically changed lives across the country and around the world.
The SickKids-led components of CONCOR are supported by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and SickKids Foundation.