Newswise — March 10, 2021 Hackensack, NJ – Convalescent plasma, the use of survivors’ antibodies transfused into sick COVID-19 patients is safe and significantly improves clinical outcomes  when using high levels of antibodies, according to a new publication by scientists at Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network. 

The treatment was safe, transferred the survivors’ antibodies, and did not prevent the recipients from making their own antibodies, according to the results published recently in the journal JCI Insights

“We have developed this technique and methodology to save the lives of patients,” said Michele Donato, M.D., FACP, CPE, chief of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy at John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, and who is leading the study. “We believe our hard work is paying off.” 

“The know-how is really crucial for this kind of treatment,” said David S. Perlin, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI). “We have demonstrated that when you rigorously qualify donors, and deliver their antibodies into the right patients, it can make a huge difference.” 

Fifty-one patients were enrolled to receive the plasma. They were split into two groups: one that was hospitalized but not needing mechanical breathing assistance, and one that was receiving such assistance. 

The non-mechanically ventilated patients survived at a significantly higher rate (88.9 percent) at the 30-day mark than a comparative group elsewhere in the health network (72.5 percent). 

The convalescent plasma program at Hackensack University Medical Center identifies “super donors” – those with the highest levels of neutralizing antibodies – through methodology developed by experts from the CDI. 

These plasma patients received high levels (titers) of antibodies, with almost all receiving viral neutralizing anti-spike protein levels at a proportion of 1:1000, or even greater. This compares with some other plasma programs which have not set elevated thresholds for antibody levels from donors. 

Since the antibodies come from survivors who have developed immune responses to the latest strains, plasma may also keep up with the rise of “variants” of the SARS-CoV-2 virus where other interventions may not, according to some experts. 

The promising results for the early intervention has led to an ongoing outpatient program at Hackensack University Medical Center, supported by a Department of Defense grant. The approximately $5.5 million will allow the researchers at Hackensack Meridian John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, and their colleagues at the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI) to continue phase 2 testing of the clinical treatments. 

The goal of this outpatient work is to treat infected patients in the first 96 hours of symptoms with the antibodies found in plasma collected from COVID-19 survivors – with the aim to prevent hospitalization. 

“This is an example of how our health network leverages excellent laboratory work into clinical interventions,” said Ihor Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, president of Hackensack Meridian Health's Northern Market, and the chief research officer of the network. “Scientific research is helping to make a difference in this global pandemic.”

 

ABOUT HACKENSACK MERIDIAN HEALTH

Hackensack Meridian Health is a leading not-for-profit health care organization that is the largest, most comprehensive and truly integrated health care network in New Jersey, offering a complete range of medical services, innovative research and life-enhancing care. 

Hackensack Meridian Health comprises 17 hospitals from Bergen to Ocean counties, which includes three academic medical centers – Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, JFK Medical Center in Edison; two children’s hospitals - Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack, K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital in Neptune; nine community hospitals – Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, Ocean Medical Center in Brick, Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, and Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin; a behavioral health hospital – Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead; and two rehabilitation hospitals - JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison and Shore Rehabilitation Institute in Brick.

Additionally, the network has more than 500 patient care locations throughout the state which include ambulatory care centers, surgery centers, home health services, long-term care and assisted living communities, ambulance services, lifesaving air medical transportation, fitness and wellness centers, rehabilitation centers, urgent care centers and physician practice locations. Hackensack Meridian Health has more than 36,000 team members, and over 7,000 physicians and is a distinguished leader in health care philanthropy, committed to the health and well-being of the communities it serves.

The network’s notable distinctions include having four hospitals among the top in New Jersey by U.S. News and World Report. Other honors include consistently achieving Magnet® recognition for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center and being named to Becker’s Healthcare’s “150 Top Places to Work in Healthcare/2019” list.

The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine opened in 2018, the first private medical school in New Jersey in more than 50 years, welcomed its third class of students in 2020 to its On3 campus in Nutley and Clifton. Additionally, the network partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to find more cures for cancer faster while ensuring that patients have access to the highest quality, most individualized cancer care when and where they need it. 

Hackensack Meridian Health is a member of AllSpire Health Partners, an interstate consortium of leading health systems, to focus on the sharing of best practices in clinical care and achieving efficiencies.

For additional information, please visit www.HackensackMeridianHealth.org.

 

About the Center for Discovery and Innovation 

The Center for Discovery and Innovation, a newly established member of Hackensack Meridian Health, seeks to translate current innovations in science to improve clinical outcomes for patients with cancer, infectious diseases and other life-threatening and disabling conditions. The CDI, housed in a fully renovated state-of-the-art facility, offers world-class researchers a support infrastructure and culture of discovery that promotes science innovation and rapid translation to the clinic.

 

About John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center

John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center is New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive center dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, management, research, screenings, and preventive care as well as survivorship of patients with all types of cancers. The 15 specialized divisions covering the complete spectrum of cancer care have developed a close-knit team of medical, research, nursing, and support staff with specialized expertise that translates into more advanced, focused care for all patients. Each year, more people in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area turn to John Theurer Cancer Center for cancer care than to any other facility in New Jersey. John Theurer Cancer Center, part of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, an NCI designated comprehensive cancer center. Housed within a 775-bed not-for-profit teaching, tertiary care, and research hospital, John Theurer Cancer Center provides state-of-the-art technological advances, compassionate care, research innovations, medical expertise, and a full range of aftercare services that distinguish John Theurer Cancer Center from other facilities. For additional information, please visit www.jtcancercenter.org.

 

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