Hospitalised Covid-19 survivors make the most antibodies

Coronavirus patients who were hospitalised by the disease make more antibodies, health chiefs say. 

It’s thought that antibodies in recovered patients’ blood can bolster the struggling immune system of infected people.

Hundreds of NHS Covid-19 patients are currently being treated with the blood of survivors as part of a national trial.  

Analysis of donation shows 76 per cent of infected Brits who were hospitalised had high enough antibody levels for their blood to be used. 

In comparison, fewer than a third of patients who weren’t whisked into hospital to fight the virus had enough of the disease-fighting proteins. 

The NHS is now urgently calling for survivors who were left seriously ill to donate their blood, saying they could ‘save the lives of others’.  

The NHS is urgently calling for patients who were hospitalised by Covid-19 to donate plasma for a new coronavirus treatment. Pictured is former tennis player and TV presenter Dan Lobb, 48, who recovered from coronavirus and went on to donate his plasma

The NHS is urgently calling for patients who were hospitalised by Covid-19 to donate plasma for a new coronavirus treatment. Pictured is former tennis player and TV presenter Dan Lobb, 48, who recovered from coronavirus and went on to donate his plasma

Convalescent plasma therapy is one Covid-19 treatment being tested in Britain, to see if it could help some of the sickest patients.

The treatment — first used in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and also given to treat SARS — works using the liquid part of the blood, known as convalescent plasma.

This antibody-rich plasma is injected into Covid-19 patients struggling to make their own antibodies, with hopes it can help clear the virus.

Antibodies are substances produced by the immune system which store memories of how to fight off a specific virus, such as SARS-CoV-2.     

The data came from analysis of blood donations at 23 centres dotted around the country and a handful of pop-up sites. 

Donating takes around 45 minutes and medics filter the blood through a machine to remove the plasma, in a process known as plasmapheresis. 

NHS Blood and Transplant is now urgently appealing for donors ahead of a potential second wave.

Health chiefs are especially keen for donations from men, who have been found to make more Covid-19 antibodies than women.

People between the ages of 17 and 70 are welcome to donate, so long as they have big enough veins and enough blood to spare.     

NHS Blood and Transplant’s Clinical Trials Unit is collaborating with the RECOVERY and REMAP-CAP trials on testing the therapy.  

More than 13,000 donations have been taken, including more than 800 donations from people who were hospitalised. 

There are 4,000 units of high antibody plasma units in stock and 1,500 have been issued to hospitals already. Around 190 people have received transfusions.

Dr Lise Estcourt, head of NHSBT’s Clinical Trials Unit, said ‘it is for people who were hospitalised with coronavirus to donate’.

She added that’ they are most likely to be able to save the lives of others seriously ill people’.

Dr Estcourt said the immune system produces more antibodies that neutralise or kill the virus in seriously-ill patients.  

Former tennis player and TV presenter Dan Lobb donated his antibodies after a six-day stint in hospital fighting the virus.

He said: ‘It’s so new that they don’t yet know what truly works. That’s not a slight on the NHS.

‘The hard fact of this particular disease is there’s so little treatment available for them to turn to.

‘Donating plasma could be giving them a much needed weapon that could help save lives.’

Mr Lobb, 48, was hospitalised in April after his body began ‘shutting down’ and his oxygen levels dropped.

He said: ‘I couldn’t stand up due to nausea and dizziness. It got to the point when I couldn’t even sit up in bed.’

Mr Lobb added: ‘I ended up being one of the luckier ones who didn’t deteriorate and avoided treatment in ICU. 

‘The staff did a fantastic job in difficult circumstances but it was clear there was relatively little they could offer to treat patients with Covid.   

Injecting Covid-19 patients with the blood of survivors speeds up their recovery and reduces their symptoms, according to the latest study.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland reviewed 10 studies looking into CP therapy.   

Writing in the study, the academics said: ‘The results reviewed here suggest that CP therapy for COVID-19 is safe and effective.’ 

The scientists acknowledged that early results from China have shown the therapy has no effect on coronavirus patients, however. 

Only dexamethasone has been proven to treat Covid-19 and thousands of patients worldwide are involved in trials of promising medicines.

A key advantage to the blood-based therapy is that it’s available immediately and relies only drawing blood from a former patient. 

It is also significantly cheaper than developing a new drug, which costs millions to take through trials and regulation before mass production. 


Convalescent plasma has been used to treat infections for at least a century, dating back to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.  

It was also trialed during the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza virus pandemic, 2003 SARS epidemic, and the 2012 MERS epidemic. 

Convalescent plasma was used as a last resort to improve the survival rate of patients with SARS whose condition continued to deteriorate.

It has been proven ‘effective and life-saving’ against other infections, such as rabies and diphtheria, said Dr Mike Ryan, of the World Health Organization.

‘It is a very important area to pursue,’ Dr Ryan said.

Although promising, convalescent plasma has not been shown to be effective in every disease studied, the FDA say.

Is it already being used for COVID-19 patients?

Before it can be routinely given to patients with COVID-19, it is important to determine whether it is safe and effective through clinical trials.

The FDA said it was ‘facilitating access’ for the treatment to be used on patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections’.

It came after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that plasma would be tested there to treat the sickest of the state’s coronavirus patients.  

COVID-19 patients in Beijing, Wuhan and Shanghai are being treated with this method, authorities report. 

Lu Hongzhou, professor and co-director of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre, said in February the hospital had set up a special clinic to administer plasma therapy and was selecting patients who were willing to donate. 

‘We are positive that this method can be very effective in our patients,’ he said.

Meanwhile, the head of a Wuhan hospital said plasma infusions from recovered patients had shown some encouraging preliminary results.

The MHRA has approved the use of the therapy in the UK, but it has not been revealed which hospitals have already tried it. 

How does it work? 

Blood banks take plasma donations much like they take donations of whole blood; regular plasma is used in hospitals and emergency rooms every day.

If someone’s donating only plasma, their blood is drawn through a tube, the plasma is separated and the rest infused back into the donor’s body.

Then that plasma is tested and purified to be sure it doesn’t harbor any blood-borne viruses and is safe to use.

For COVID-19 research, people who have recovered from the coronavirus would be donating.  

Scientists would measure how many antibodies are in a unit of donated plasma – tests just now being developed that aren’t available to the general public – as they figure out what’s a good dose, and how often a survivor could donate.

There is also the possibility that asymptomatic patients – those who never showed symptoms or became unwell – would be able to donate. But these ‘silent carriers’ would need to be found via testing first.

Japanese pharmaceutical company Takeda is working on a drug that contains recovered patients antibodies in a pill form, Stat News reported. 

Could it work as a vaccine? 

While scientists race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, blood plasma therapy could provide temporary  protection for the most vulnerable in a similar fashion. 

A vaccine trains people’s immune systems to make their own antibodies against a target germ. The plasma infusion approach would give people a temporary shot of someone else’s antibodies that are short-lived and require repeated doses.

If US regulator the FDA agrees, a second study would give antibody-rich plasma infusions to certain people at high risk from repeated exposures to COVID-19, such as hospital workers or first responders, said Dr Liise-anne Pirofski of New York’s Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

That also might include nursing homes when a resident becomes ill, in hopes of giving the other people in the home some protection, she said.

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