Doctors in the UK say they’re increasingly frustrated the government has yet to approve trials for plasma therapy to help treat coronavirus patients.
The therapy involves extracting plasma from the blood of people who have recovered from the virus, and giving it to those who are critically ill.
The idea is that antibodies produced by patients who have had survived the virus will boost the immune systems of those who are trying to beat the disease.
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Trials are already under way in other countries including China, France, Germany and the US but no decision has been made in the UK.
Dr Colin Hamilton-Davies leads the acute cardiac critical care unit at Bart’s Hospital in London and has spent 30 years looking at this line of research.
He said lives could be saved if action is taken immediately.
“We have a national health service and blood service that is the envy of the world, we have a very substantially-sized department of blood transfusion, and for people harvesting blood plasma, we could step it up within a week.
“We could be administering it, not just to one or two people, but hundreds of patients.”
There are no effective treatments for COVID-19 patients. Studies are under way into the use of antivirals and steroids, but many say the use of plasma therapy has yet to be adequately explored.
Dr Hamilton-Davies has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab offering his expertise.
Last week, Mr Raab responded and sent a letter to Mr Hancock asking about the use of plasma therapy but no decision has been made on when trials will begin.
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But Dr Hamilton-Davies is concerned that the delay is costing valuable research time.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” he said.
“It’s not only myself, but many colleagues are saying ‘why aren’t we looking at this in greater depth and in a faster timeframe?’
“There is a research framework which is up and running, which it may or may not become part of. I very much hope it does. This is something we could get up and running very quickly indeed.”
The treatment has been used with some success for Ebola and SARS and many experts agree it should be trialled for COVID-19 patients in the UK.
Dr Muhammad Munir, a molecular virologist at Lancaster University, told Sky News: “Plasma treatment is an interim solution and should be done at all costs because what we’re looking into is a vaccine for next year. The plasma is something we can offer and it is in our hands.
“It would be extremely disappointing if this effort shouldn’t be made in place – and especially at a time when so many people are recovering and they can be a valuable source of collection of the plasma.”
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A spokesperson for NHS Blood and Transplant said: “We have well-established plans for dealing with new diseases, including the collection of convalescent plasma.
“We are working closely with government and other NHS bodies to look at the ways in which we can best support work being undertaken to tackle COVID-19.”