Patients With Blood Cancers and COVID-19 May Benefit From Convalescent Plasma Therapy

The use of convalescent plasma therapy in patients with blood cancers and COVID-19 was associated with an improvement in survival from the infection.

Treatment with convalescent plasma from individuals who fully recovered from COVID-19 was associated with a survival benefit in patients with blood cancers who were hospitalized after contracting the infection, according to recently published study results.

“These results suggest that convalescent plasma may not only help COVID-19 patients with blood cancers whose immune systems are compromised, it may also help patients with other illnesses who have weakened antibody responses to this virus or to the vaccines,” said study author Dr. Jeffery P. Henderson, an associate professor of medicine and molecular biology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, in a news release “The data also emphasize the value of an antibody therapy such as convalescent plasma as a virus-directed treatment option for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.”

Convalescent plasma therapy is the administration of plasma — the liquid portion of a person’s blood — from someone who has recovered from an illness to potentially help others recover from the same disease.

Henderson explained that when patients with COVID-19 first started receiving convalescent plasma to treat their infection, he and his colleagues heard of reports of significant improvements following infusions in patients who had blood cancers and COVID-19.

“I have seen one of my own patients with blood cancer quickly improve after receiving convalescent plasma,” he said in the release. “Similar stories that were often very detailed suggested that a formal study would help physicians with decisions they were already making on a daily basis.”

As a result, he and his colleagues sought to evaluate the association between convalescent plasma treatment and 30-day mortality rates in patients with blood cancers and COVID-19.

Using data from the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium, Henderson and colleagues conducted a retrospective study of 966 patients (mean age, 65 years; 55.8% male), of which 823 did not receive convalescent plasma treatment and 143 did.

Overall, the researchers identified 223 deaths within 30 days of a COVID-19 diagnosis. The mortality rate among patients who received convalescent plasma was 13.3% compared to 24.8% among those who did not receive convalescent plasma.

Of the 338 patients who were admitted to the intensive care unit, mortality was significantly lower in patients who received convalescent plasma treatment (15.8%) compared to those who did not (46.9%). A similar trend occurred among the 227 patients who required ventilation support.

“You put that together with quite a number of anecdotes and … pretty compelling stories of almost miraculous recoveries in patients who were otherwise extremely ill, and it does become very suggestive, at least, that this may be a treatment that can benefit a certain subset of usually pretty sick patients with blood cancer and COVID-19,” said Dr. Jeremy Warner, an associate professor of medicine and biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University, in an interview with CURE®.

Warner, who was a co-author of the study, said that the main focus of this study was to assess patients with blood cancers because they usually have “profound immunosuppression.” He explained that at the onset of the study, the authors analyzed the use of convalescent plasma therapy in patients with solid tumors with COVID-19, but there didn’t appear to be a benefit associated with the treatment.

Warner cautioned that the study results may only convey to individuals with blood cancers who are already gravely sick and hospitalized with COVID-19.

Moreover, Warner advised patients to avoid the infection and stressed that patients with blood cancers cannot rely on the vaccine as the only form of protection against the infection. In fact, he explained that because of their treatments or even their disease, patients with blood cancers are likely to have issues with their immune system, and as a result often do not respond as well to vaccines as others do.

Warner noted, however, that people should try and return to normalcy as much as they can. But he urged those with blood cancers to return to normalcy with caution.

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