Medical researchers are studying the use of convalescent plasma from the blood of coronavirus survivors to treat COVID-19 patients.
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Medical researchers are studying the use of convalescent plasma from the blood of coronavirus survivors to treat COVID-19 patients.

With the state of Georgia seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases, a global company with ties to Alpharetta is helping blood centers collect and distribute donated blood of coronavirus survivors to try to save as many lives as possible.

The blood centers use the treatment known as convalescent plasma, an antibody-rich product made from blood donated by people who have recovered from the disease. The blood is then transfused into patients actively sick to try to help their immune systems kill the virus.

"Convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 is the rarest of the blood products, so we want to make sure we're going to help decrease the burden of dealing with COVID-19," said Biolog-id CEO Troy Hilsenroth.

Biolog-id, a global medical technology company based in Paris with offices in Alpharetta, uses its resources to help the blood centers that actually handle the plasma by providing them with support for things like storage, distribution, and keeping accurate inventory.

The company recently partnered with LifeShare Blood Center to streamline the delivery of much-needed plasma to patients who need it most throughout the south-central United States.

"We want to increase the return on donations, so every unit of convalescent plasma is a very scarce and valuable resource," said Hilsenroth. "We want to make sure it gets to patients to potentially save their lives."

Public health officials view convalescent plasma as an important treatment option, especially when there is no vaccine on the market. At a congressional hearing last week, Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said preliminary safety data from more than 20,000 patients "shows this is a very safe therapy."

"Our preliminary assessment of the effectiveness of this plasma is quite encouraging," he said. "If those data hold, we will have potentially another weapon in the armatorum against COVID-19."

Hahn said several randomized-controlled trials are continuing around the country.

Dr. Carlos del Rio, one of the top infectious disease doctors in Georgia, said plasma fills a vital treatment gap as researchers work toward a vaccine.

"We don't have a lot of treatment options right now for COVID-19, so anything that you can find some utility would be better than nothing," said del Rio, a professor at Emory University School of Medicine.

"So, if you can say, 'Well, plasma infusion can make you get better when you get sent to the hospital and don't end up in the ICU,' I like it, right?"

More than 77,000 Georgians have fallen ill with COVID-19, including more than 2,700 people who have died. Some 2,200 people have been admitted into intensive care units, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

As the state has begun reopening, the number of cases has begun rise. This past weekend, Georgia saw its largest spike in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, with experts warning of an alarming rise in the state's poultry and agricultural workers.

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The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has projected that the state could see at least 1,000 more deaths by the end of August.

A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found that convalescent plasma therapy was a safe treatment method following the transfusion of 20,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

As researchers look for an array of treatment options, del Rio said one option currently being tested, called monoclonal antibodies, could show even more promising results. Monoclonal antibodies are the most effective antibodies against killing the coronavirus that is mass-produced and turned into drugs.

The idea, del Rio said, would be to treat COVID patients when they first show symptoms or to use the monoclonal antibodies as a treatment for the most vulnerable in society. That would be more effective than trying to perform convalescent plasma transfusions with thousands of people, he said.

"Do I think that plasma is the way that we treat tens of thousands of people? No, I think it's going to be monoclonal antibodies," del Rio said.

Biolog-id wants to keep building on its progress to help blood centers treat patients with convalescent plasma. The company is hoping its new partnership with LifeShare Blood Center will strengthen the blood center's supply chain.

"COVID-19 came in a tsunami, and it took a lot of people by surprise," Hilsenroth said. "It would be a crime if we didn't learn this lesson and have a structure in place to help us moving forward."

Biolog-ID CEO Troy Hilsenroth believes the medical technology company can help distribute convalescent plasma to blood centers so they treat patients with the COVID-19 virus.
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Biolog-ID CEO Troy Hilsenroth believes the medical technology company can help distribute convalescent plasma to blood centers so they treat patients with the COVID-19 virus.