33 sick Israelis treated with antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients

Head of Israel’s blood service is cautiously optimistic of results

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative: A recovered coronavirus patient (center) donating plasma for Israel's experimental antibodies treatment, and (right) Eilat Shinar. (Magen David Adom)
Illustrative: A recovered coronavirus patient (center) donating plasma for Israel's experimental antibodies treatment, and (right) Eilat Shinar. (Magen David Adom)

Antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients have been given to 33 Israelis battling the virus and outcomes give cause for hope, according to the head of the national blood service

Eilat Shinar told The Times of Israel that between 30 percent and 40% of patients who received the antibodies since treatments began three weeks ago have shown improvement. “Some moderate patients, especially, have really improved,” she said.

She added that even some more serious patients are showing improvement in blood pressure, respiratory function, and kidney function.

But Shinar, director of Magen David Adom blood services, stressed that the numbers are small and there is no control group, meaning there is no scientific way of knowing whether the antibodies are responsible for improvements. She is “very cautious” about drawing firm conclusions from observations about patients.

Explaining the process she said: “It’s known that if you’re exposed to any virus you produce antibodies. What we do is connect people to a machine that is similar to a dialysis machine, and which separates the plasma from the rest of the blood. In plasma you have antibodies that your blood produces.”

Several other countries, including China the UK, and the US, are experimenting by administering antibodies from recovered patients. It is a technique that was used during other health crises, including Ebola and Sars, but there is limited data on its efficacy.

Shinar’s team takes donations 14 days after patients are declared recovered in a series of two negative coronavirus tests. The Ministry of Health puts it in touch with patients, and response rates are very positive, she said. Plasma is tested for diseases including hepatitis and syphilis, and frozen.

Doctors in all Israeli hospitals can request the treatment for their coronavirus patients, and so far the Ministry of Health has approved all requests, Shinar said. Patients receive the plasma intravenously, in two doses of 200 milliliters, which are given 24 hours apart.

She said that while doctors are cautious about drawing conclusions, they are encouraged that no patients have found themselves in a worse state after receiving the antibodies. “Nobody has deteriorated after getting plasma, which is important,” she said.

Shinar is hopeful that the plasma could be proved effective and help large numbers of patients, but stressed: “It’s not a magic solution.”

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