What if the plasma taken from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 could be used to transfer the necessary antibodies to someone currently battling the virus? That’s the question Dr. Philippe Bégin, a clinician-researcher at Sainte-Justine, asked a few months ago. It became the impetus to carry out a clinical trial jointly with such partners as the Jewish General Hospital, Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM), McMaster University and the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Héma-Québec and Canadian Blood Services.
The entire medical and scientific community in Canada has since rallied together to support this pan-Canadian approach. Currently, researchers in more than 50 hospitals, including 15 in Quebec, are involved in the initiative, making it the most extensive randomized, controlled study of convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19 in the world.
Mind you, this treatment concept is far from new. The study is based on encouraging and scientifically validated findings culled from previous epidemics and pandemics, including influenza, bird flu, Ebola and other strains of coronavirus such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The treatment is also being studied in China, France and the U.S. Transfused plasma is administered at the onset of initial symptoms to curtail the progress of the disease. As a result, it could help prevent the development of COVID-19 in patients of all ages.
We’re not looking for a miracle cure. This isn’t going to replace a vaccine. But it’s a promising avenue that will reduce the risk of intubation and death and that could be rolled out quickly to the general population while we await a more permanent solution.
Dr. Philippe Bégin
In the midst of all the obstacles brought about by the pandemic, countless examples of partnership and cooperation have emerged. This undertaking epitomizes these values. It unites people and organizations from across the healthcare spectrum, among them Héma-Québec, research labs, participating hospitals and plasma donors themselves. Not only is it an admittedly welcome ray of hope, but it is also a wonderful testimony to the power of collaboration during these isolated times.
Sharing antibodies is an example of people helping people. In the midst of this crisis where it can sometimes be hard to feel close to anyone, it’s the best possible way of giving back. Recovered patients who choose to donate blood to help other people get better is a true act of altruism.
Dr. Philippe Bégin
The key to the success of this clinical trial lies in the engagement and participation of Quebecers and their willingness to share their antibodies with people battling the virus. But it also depends on our donors who are enabling the study to move forward – like Power Corporation of Canada and Intact Financial Corporation the first majors donors in Quebec to back this large-scale initiative.
Power Corporation has stepped up to support an impressive number of innovative projects at Sainte-Justine. Their ongoing faith in the value and potential of our institution has opened the doors to an infinite number of new scientific, technological and treatment options. This latest initiative is yet another example of this.
When Sainte-Justine approached us about the project, CONCOR-1, we immediately recognized its tremendous potential as a possible treatment for this difficult disease. We were already familiar with the hospital’s outstanding medical research capabilities, but were further impressed by their collaboration with Héma-Québec and 15 other Quebec hospitals on this promising initiative. Given the close relationship we have built with Sainte-Justine over the years, it was very natural for us to support them. We salute and thank Sainte-Justine for their leadership role in helping our society face up to this crisis.
Paul C. Genest
Motivated by a desire to be part of the solution, Intact Financial Corporation has renewed their commitment to the cause with an exceptional $500,000 donation. This philanthropic investment, the largest earmarked for the project thus far, speaks to the importance attached by Intact to supporting research, which will be crucial in overcoming this crisis.
We are investing in this initiative to help find medium- and long-term solutions to help people and society get back on track. With the expertise and leadership of the CHU Sainte-Justine, the potential impact of this research could be a game changer on a global scale putting Canada at the forefront of the fight against this pandemic. We are honoured to be part of this important initiative.
The first plasma transfusion to a COVID-19 patient took place on May 14. In the coming months, Dr. Bégin and his colleagues hope to recruit more than 1,200 patients across Canada and in some centres in the United States to take part in the trial.
Sainte-Justine: An Important Ally for COVID-19 Research
Sainte-Justine is a key player in the current crisis, leveraging world-renowned expertise in genomics and infectious and rare diseases to implement provincial and national strategies to fight the coronavirus and help patients across Quebec. This study, and many others that are currently underway at Sainte-Justine, are proof positive of our role in finding a way forward.