Costa Rica is set to begin clinical trials on antibody-rich plasma that has been extracted from horses with the purpose of treating COVID-19 patients.
Two versions of the plasma were shown to inhibit the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in tests performed at the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases in the United States.
The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon by Román Macaya, executive president of the Costa Rica Social Security System (CCSS), and representatives from the University of Costa Rica’s Clodomiro Picado Institute, which created the purified serum.
“The immune response of the horses was activated to block a ‘key,’ preventing the virus from infecting cells and replicating,” explained Alberto Alape of the Clodomiro Picado Institute.
The Clodomiro Picado Institute created the serum from the blood of horses that have been injected with non-infectious SARS-CoV-2 proteins.
Carlos Araya, rector of the University of Costa Rica (UCR), said the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases confirmed the serums contain antibodies that help to neutralize the coronavirus.
The Clodomiro Picado Institute will increase production of both serums, which will be compared in clinical trials to determine their efficacy. The serums differ in the strands of protein that were initially injected into the horses to generate the antibody response, Alape said.
If clinical tests are successful, the equine plasma could help Costa Rica achieve better outcomes with hospitalized patients.
“We have the hope that it will reduce length of hospitalization for those with COVID-19,” he said.
Costa Rica also treats hospitalized patients with convalescent plasma created from the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients, but the equine plasma is many times stronger, Macaya said.
“This is not a substitute for a vaccine, [but] it’s a therapeutic strategy to use until we have a vaccine, so that we lose the fewest number of people due to COVID-19,” he said.
Macaya said the development of the equine plasma — less than five months after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Costa Rica — demonstrates the capacity of the country’s public institutions.
“This is an example of two institutions that were born together nearly eight decades ago, in that famous agreement that created social guarantees: the University of Costa Rica and the Costa Rican Social Security System,” Macaya said.
“As a Costa Rican, I am so proud that Costa Rica has the capacity to make this possible.”