Bloomberg Philanthropies, state of Maryland fund Hopkins-led COVID-19 treatment research

Public-private initiative will provide $4 million in funding to a JHU-led research team exploring therapeutic uses of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients

Robin Scullin
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Bloomberg Philanthropies, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and Johns Hopkins University announced today a joint effort to fund research into the potential therapeutic uses of COVID-19 convalescent plasma, led by Arturo Casadevall, an infectious disease expert and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor who holds joint appointments in the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

In recent weeks, Casadevall has led a team of physicians and scientists from around the United States to establish a network of hospitals and blood banks that can begin collecting, isolating, and processing blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors. Researchers hope to use the technique to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients and boost the immune systems of health care providers and first responders. Currently there are no proven drug therapies or effective vaccines for treating COVID-19. Casadevall and his team believe using plasma from recovered viral positive patients could provide immediate immunity to the most at-risk individuals. The strategy of isolating plasma is a long-established technology, and recent advances make it as safe as a blood transfusion.

The funding consists of a $3 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, in addition to $1 million in backing from the state of Maryland.

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"Taking on the greatest public health challenge of our generation requires urgent and innovative collaboration. As scientists work to develop a vaccine, plasma treatment has the potential to save many lives—including the lives of doctors and health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic," said Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York City. "I want to thank Governor Hogan, Dr. Casadevall, and Johns Hopkins University for their leadership and partnership, which will help ensure we can study and explore potential treatments as quickly as possible."

At Johns Hopkins, the research team plans to measure the effectiveness of COVID-19 convalescent plasma and monitor the safety of this potentially lifesaving therapy in a randomized clinical trial for both treatment of COVID-19 positive patients at all stages of disease progression as well as prevention of infection after high-risk exposure.

"We are very fortunate that Maryland has some of the top health research facilities in the world, and I am confident in our state's ability to be a leader in developing treatments and perhaps even a vaccine for COVID-19," said Hogan. "I want to sincerely thank Bloomberg Philanthropies and Johns Hopkins University for working with our state to form this exciting public-private partnership, which will protect the health and well-being of our citizens and has the potential to save thousands of lives."

Johns Hopkins is coordinating on the research initiative with other medical centers and doctors from nearly two dozen hospitals and research centers, including the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the Stanford University Medical Center in California, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Infectious disease physicians and other providers will identify recovered COVID-19 patients as potential donors. After it is confirmed that certain COVID-19 antibodies exist in their blood, plasma will be harvested from these donors at a local Red Cross or the New York Blood Bank, which is collaborating in this effort. The study will also recruit COVID-19 patients and individuals who have not been infected with the virus, as well as health care workers or close contacts classified as high-risk exposures—for measurement of improved outcomes or stopping transmission.

The Food and Drug Administration announced on March 24 that it is making it easier for doctors to use the experimental treatment for COVID-19 patients. Currently, there are nearly 93,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with more than 566,000 across the globe.

"Johns Hopkins is committed to marshaling our clinical and research expertise to stem the tide of this devastating pandemic worldwide," said JHU President Ronald J. Daniels. "Dr. Casadevall, like so many other Hopkins researchers, is joining with partners across the globe in a race against the clock, and his work embodies to the fullest our university's mission to serve humanity through discovery. Thanks to the support and leadership of Michael Bloomberg, Governor Hogan, and the state of Maryland, we will be able to move forward with Dr. Casadevall's promising work and bring hope to so many."

Johns Hopkins experts and doctors have been on the forefront of the international response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, leading efforts including mapping the progression of the outbreak, advising governments on public health and emergency preparedness, and advancing the public and scientific community's understanding of the virus and how to protect against its spread.