ISLAMABAD: Trials for plasma therapy to help treat severely ill coronavirus patients are going to start this week, as the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has authorized the procedure, DRAP chief executive Asim Rauf told Arab News on Monday.

The therapy involves collecting plasma from the blood of people who have recovered from the infection and developed antibodies to fight the disease.

“Initially the coronavirus patients will be treated via the antibody technique at the National Institute of Blood Diseases and Bone Marrow Transplantation in Karachi (NIBD), LUMS Medical University in Lahore, and Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences in Jamshoro under the strict supervision of senior doctors,” Rauf said.

Antibodies are produced by the immune system to fight a virus. When a person’s body produces antibodies in response to a vaccine, he or she develops long-lasting active immunity. But since there is no COVID-19 vaccine yet, hopes are running high that for the moment plasma treatment could help in critical cases. Also called passive immunization, it can provide antibodies immediately and aid survival.

Pakistan is not the first country to test the therapy, Rauf said, “It was used in China and some other countries. We do not have many recovered patients so far, so we will have less plasma, but at least the trial could tell us the effectiveness of the treatment.”

“There are standard international protocols which would be followed in Pakistan as well like consent of both patient and donor. Strict screening of the donor for any other medical complications and quantity of the plasma to be injected will be determined by senior expert doctors,” he said.

The DRAP chief also confirmed that the drug regulator has already authorized a clinical trial of the prototype of ventilators approved by the Pakistan Engineering Council, and local production of chloroquine phosphate, a drug found to be supportive in COVID-19 treatment.

According to NIBD chairman Dr. Tahir Shamsi, who suggested the introduction of plasma therapy to the Pakistani government, trials at his hospital will start in the next few days.

“I am tirelessly coordinating and organizing the passive immunization program in the country. The treatment through this method will start within few days which will help especially critical patients,” Shamsi he said over the phone from Karachi.

The trials will be monitored by a special expert committee from the Ministry of Health, its director general, Malik Muhammad Safi told Arab News.

“In Pakistan, it will take time to produce results, but the plasma therapy is being used in the UK, China and a few other countries to improve immunity against the virus in critical patients,” he said.

Dr. Durre Naz Jamal, director of the Sindh Blood Transfusion Authority, said the provincial government has also established a committee of experts for the application of plasma therapy in COVID-19 treatment.

“The government committee will make a list of recovered patients in the province and will take plasma from those who have no other health issues to be used on ventilator stage patients,” she said, adding that plasma therapy trials have also been approved by the National Bioethics Committee.