Clinical trials on new antiviral drug, plasma begin at Sarasota Memorial Hospital; recovered donors needed

Sarasota Memorial Hospital is among the first medical centers in the nation that have been approved to participate in two different clinical trials to treat COVID-19: Remdesivir and plasma from recovered patients.

Remdesivir is an anti-viral drug that’s been tested already in China. Officials at SMH said the hospital is one of the first in the Southeast to participate in what is now a worldwide study. Patients participating in the trial must be hospitalized and on a ventilator.

In other words, only the most severe cases will be considered for the trial.

“This drug works against the virus. It is only for very sick people who are in the intensive care unit on ventilators, but they can’t be too sick, in multi-organ failure,” explained Dr. Kirk Voelker, the director of SMH’s clinical research team. “We want to be in the forefront of finding a treatment. That’s what we do.”

The second clinical trial, using plasma from recovered patients, can be used during any stage of COVID-19 infection.

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Researchers use the liquid part of donated blood from recovered COVID-19 patients and incorporate it into an infected person’s bloodstream. That plasma contains antibodies that can help the infected person’s immune system fight off the virus.

Voelker said plasma from one recovered patient can treat up to four others.

There are no guarantees, but if either is successful, doctors will new treatment options -- which are desperately needed.

“I’m grateful that we have some sort of ammunition to fight this and I’m hopeful that we will be part of the solution,” Voelker said.

Normally, these trials would take months to get started. But the FDA fast-tracked these studies and Sarasota Memorial was able to get started within a week.

Researchers are asking newly recovered patients for blood donations and so far, everyone they have asked has said ‘yes.’

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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