Norton Healthcare specialists using multiple COVID-19 treatments

Norton Healthcare specialists are researching a variety of experimental therapies as possible treatments for patients with COVID-19 and are the only physicians in the region offering four types of treatments.

Norton Healthcare specialists are researching a variety of experimental therapies as possible treatments for patients with COVID-19. These therapies fall into four categories:

  1. Agents that work to prevent the virus from growing: Medications are being used to either kill the virus or prevent it from growing.
  2. Drugs that block or lessen the profound inflammation that accompanies COVID-19 infection: Medication is in development to help stop the body’s immune response that results in increased damage to otherwise healthy organs.
  3. Medications that increase the body’s ability to fight the infection or improve immunity: These are showing to be effective in treating COVID-19 patients.
  4. Plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients: A comprehensive approach to an advanced donor program for “convalescent plasma” is allowing researchers to study its benefits in treating patients.

“We are very optimistic about our four-pronged approach,” said Joseph M. Flynn, D.O., MPH, FACP, chief administrative officer, Norton Medical Group, and physician-in-chief, Norton Cancer Institute. “The initial phase has incorporated the use of convalescent plasma, and we are grateful to those who have signed up to donate plasma so far.

“We have now begun looking at several other therapies that have shown promise at helping the human body fight and recover from COVID-19.”

These therapies may be used individually or in conjunction with one another, depending on the situation.

“While we have provided aggressive supportive care and, in some cases, antibiotics for bacterial infections, we need to do more to support other organ systems,” Dr. Flynn said. “Currently, there are no specific therapeutic agents available for COVID-19, and the principal approach to the infected patient has remained supportive in nature.

“We will continue to work on potential innovative solutions to help find the answers to fighting this virus. Our teams have done a great deal to get the convalescent plasma program off the ground, and we think these additional trials will help.”

Convalescent plasma update

For nearly two weeks, Norton Healthcare physicians have been testing a treatment for COVID-19 that has shown promise in smaller studies around the world. The treatment uses plasma taken from blood donated by fully recovered COVID-19 patients. This convalescent plasma is then given to critically ill patients in the hospital.

Twenty-one patients received convalescent plasma during the first two weeks, and researchers are seeing very encouraging results. In fact six of those have recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital.

“Our initial results have been quite promising,” said primary study investigator Don A. Stevens, M.D., a hematologist/oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute. “We’re tentatively optimistic and look forward to potentially sharing more specific information about outcomes soon. However, there is still so much that can happen while a patient is recovering, in the hospital or at home, and we don’t want to create a false sense of hope.

“While we hope a greater supply of plasma in the future will permit its earlier use, these first patients were all critically ill with respiratory failure.”

Each person who donates plasma can help two to three patients battling COVID-19. To date, Norton Healthcare has had over 180 individuals volunteer to donate and is working tirelessly to identify those who are eligible according to recognized criteria. The hope is this therapy can be expanded to patients who may not be critically ill but could benefit.

To take part in the Norton Healthcare convalescent plasma study, potential donors must have had a positive COVID-19 test and must be symptom-free for at least 28 days with a follow-up antibody test, or symptom-free for 14 days with a negative COVID-19 follow-up test. People who showed symptoms after March 4, were exposed to someone who had a positive COVID-19 test and are tested for antibodies also may be eligible to donate. Additional requirements, such as those associated with any blood donation, also apply.

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