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COVID-19 convalescent plasma study helps patients, researchers

Grant from the George I. Alden Trust supported implementation

On April 18, 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts, plasma from a COVID-19 survivor was used to successfully treat a seriously ill patient at UMass Memorial Medical Center. It was the first time the therapy had been used for the disease in this state. By mid-July, 136 severely ill COVID-19 patients in the UMass Memorial Health Care system had been treated with convalescent plasma through a UMass Medical School clinical trial led by Jonathan M. Gerber, MD, the Eleanor Eustis Farrington Chair in Cancer Research, chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the Department of Medicine, medical director of the UMass Cancer Center and associate professor of medicine and molecular, cell & cancer biology. By the end of July 2020, 87 had recovered and been discharged from the hospital.

The first priority of the research was to get this study running quickly and be able to deliver potentially beneficial treatment to patients, according to Dr. Gerber. The next step would analyze saved segments of plasma in conjunction with patient outcomes and additional laboratory correlates, in an effort to better determine the effects of plasma and how best to utilize it. By late August 2020, UMMS scientists were gearing up to do these comprehensive analyses.

The next phase would be to join other national trials. Dr. Gerber’s team had opened two new outpatient plasma trials in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University in July 2020. In addition, the team is also actively pursuing a hyperimmune globulin pilot clinical trial, which would potentially be more widely available and more effective against COVID-19.

When reflecting on the implementation of the initial clinical trial, Gerber said a $100,000 grant from the George I. Alden Trust and a $100,000 commitment from UMass Memorial Health Care were instrumental in launching this program. He also credited the support of several UMMS and UMass Memorial groups, including the Cancer Research Office, the Division of Hematology/Oncology, the blood bank team, the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science, the critical care teams, and numerous other physicians and nurses.