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Costa Rica pioneering three plasma-based strategies to treat COVID-19

April 17, 2020

The Clodomiro Picado Institute of the University of Costa Rica (UCR) is preparing to pioneer three strategies that could be used to treat patients with COVID-19.

The strategies consist of immunotherapy with the antibodies of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The source of the antibodies is convalescent plasma, which is obtained from people who have recovered from the virus, according to a UCR press release.

While plasma-derived therapy is being studied elsewhere, the Clodomiro Picado Institute’s director, Alberto Alape, said the initiative is the first of its kind in the region.

“In Latin America, we are the only laboratory that is beginning this process at this time,” he told CNN.

The Clodomiro Picado Institute has already met with the Health Ministry and the Costa Rican Social Security System (CCSS) to discuss the studies, and after they receive the necessary health permits, will progress as follows:

  1. In the first strategy, the institute will infuse convalescent blood plasma donated from people who have recovered from COVID-19 into patients who are gravely sick with COVID-19.
  2. In the second strategy, plasma donations from a group of recovered people will be purified and then infused into patients who are gravely sick with COVID-19.
  3. A final strategy would infuse gravely sick patients with purified antibodies from the blood of animals that have been injected with non-infectious SARS-CoV-2 proteins.

The first patients in Costa Rica could receive plasma-derived therapy by mid-2020.

“Costa Rica is a pioneer at the regional level in creating a treatment against COVID-19,” President Carlos Alvarado wrote on social media. “When we abolished our army, we put science and education in our first line of investment, and today we see the results.”

Using blood plasma from recovered patients to treat disease isn’t a new concept. As health news publication STAT explained, the strategy was used during the 1918 flu pandemic and has been employed in multiple other instances during the past century.

Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s Emergencies Program, said convalescent plasma is “a very important area to pursue” in the treatment of COVID-19.

“It’s a very valid way to explore therapeutics especially when we don’t have vaccines and we don’t have specific antivirals,” he said.

Founded in 1970, the Clodomiro Picado Institute typically focuses on the research and development of snake antivenoms.

“There are few countries in the world that have the ability and the experience that the Clodomiro Picado Institute has to do precisely this strategy of patient treatment,” said Román Macaya, president of CCSS.

“This is a capacity our country has that we must take advantage of.”

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