US authorises plasma treatment against coronavirus

File: The SANBS is set to start phase two clinical trials to test the safety and effectiveness of the collected plasma.

File: The SANBS is set to start phase two clinical trials to test the safety and effectiveness of the collected plasma.

AFP/Raul Arboleda

WASHINGTON - American authorities announced on Sunday an emergency authorisation for doctors to use blood plasma from recovered coronavirus patients as a treatment against the disease that has killed over 176,000 in the US.

The plasma is believed to contain powerful antibodies that can help fight off the disease faster and help protect people from being seriously hurt by it.

"This product may be effective in treating COVID-19 and... the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product," the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement.

READ: UK to start trials on whether plasma could help COVID-19 patients

While the treatment has already been used on patients in the United States and other nations, the extent of its effectiveness is still debated by experts and some have warned that it could carry side effects.

"Convalescent plasma probably works -- though it still needs to be proven in clinical trials -- but not as a rescue treatment for people who are already severely ill," said Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

He said that plasma would likely work much better right after a person was exposed to the virus, when the body is trying to neutralise the infection -- the problem being that plasma supplies are limited, meaning it would be difficult to get enough to treat everyone in early stages of the disease.

READ: 'Breakthrough' treatment slashes virus death risk: study

US President Donald Trump told reporters the therapy shows "an incredible rate of success" and "will save countless lives", but this went much further than his own health officials' cautious welcome of the treatment.

Challenged by a reporter to explain the apparent contradiction, Trump passed the question to one of his experts, then ended the press conference.

The FDA already allowed convalescent plasma transfusions for coronavirus patients under certain conditions, such as clinical trials and gravely ill people.

Source
AFP