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'It's Promising': New Plans To Harvest Plasma From Recovered Coronavirus Patients For Treatment

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has welcomed plans to use donated plasma from recovered Australians to develop treatment for other critically ill coronavirus patients.

The development of the potentially life-saving treatment will rely on Australians who have now recovered from coronavirus to donate their plasma.

COVID-19 Immunoglobulin -- which will be powered by the antibodies of recovered patients -- is set to be produced by CSL Behring at a Melbourne facility, the company announced on Wednesday.

A flyer IN the US asking persons who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies to consider plasma donation to help researchers. Image: AAP

Production of the treatment isn't expected to begin until the latter part of the year, but Hunt said while development was in its early stages it looked promising. 

"We don't want to overpromise," he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.

"But in particular, this treatment has the potential to assist those people who are facing extreme conditions, ones who are in ICU, those who are in an advanced stage of the effects of COVID-19."

Hunt said around 800 donations would be needed for the development of the treatment for between 50 to 100 severely ill people.

A woman donates plasma at the Biotest plasmapheresis station in Budapest, Hungary.. Image: AAP

"Every one of those cases can help unlock the potential treatment of using immunoglobulin from that convalescent plasma to protect and treat those Australians most ill, most gravely at risk of serious complications or indeed losing their lives," he said.

It's not a guarantee, but it's promising.

Australia is one of the first countries in the world producing the treatment which takes the plasma -- containing antibodies that can fight the virus-- and purifies and concentrates them to make COVID-19 Immunoglobulin which is then distributed to ill patients.

Chief Medical Officer of CSL Dr Charmaine Gittleson said there were a number of steps that developers had to go through before the treatment could be used including research, testing and a clinical trial.

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Gittleson said despite the work the government, health authorities and the community had done to flatten the curve so far, there was still a theoretical risk of a second wave of the virus in Australia.

"The work we're doing really adds to the arsenal of agents that could be useful if a resurgence occurs," she said.

The initial clinical trial is expected to involve between 50 -100 patients.

"The types of patients that would receive this under a clinical trial are those patients in hospital, who are starting to have difficulty with their breathing. They have shortness of breath and what is known as air hunger but not yet on ventilation," Gittleson said.

"This means the virus has infected the cells of their lungs and it's multiplying. When it multiplies like this, it causes the death of their lung cells."

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On Wednesday, Hunt said Australia was still "ahead of schedule" on beating the virus and said more than five million people so far downloaded the government's COVIDSafe app, 10 days after its launch.

"More to be done, but we're ahead of schedule, we're achieving what we hoped," he said.

Across Australia, there are 66 people in hospital with the disease.

27 of those people are in ICU including 18 who are on ventilators.

With AAP.