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Microsoft launches ‘Plasma Bot’ to recruit recovered COVID-19 patients to help treat sick ones

Microsoft launches ‘Plasma Bot’ to recruit recovered COVID-19 patients to help treat sick ones

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The antibodies in recovered patients’ blood may be an effective novel coronavirus treatment

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Microsoft is launching a self-screening tool for people to check whether they qualify to donate their plasma in the hopes of creating a treatment for those with COVID-19, according to a company blog post. The tool is part of the company’s work with a group called the CoVig-19 Plasma Alliance.

When someone is infected with a virus, their immune system produces antibodies to fight it. Once the infected person recovers, they have these antibodies in their blood.

“The sooner recovered COVID-19 patients donate convalescent plasma, the sooner the Alliance may be able to start manufacturing a potential therapy and begin clinical trials,” according to the post. “These trials will determine if this therapy could treat patients who are at risk for serious complications from COVID-19.”

Plasma infusions have helped some COVID-19 patients’ recovery time, early research has found

Giving the antibody-infused blood plasma of a recovered person to a newly infected person who may not have antibodies yet might help the sick person recover faster. This isn’t a new treatment; it was used to treat diphtheria in the 1890s and used — effectively — during the 1918 flu pandemic. Plasma infusions also have been used to treat people with diseases like SARS, measles, and chickenpox.

With COVID-19, some early information suggests plasma infusions have helped some patients’ recovery time, but it’s still too early to tell how effective the treatment is. Researchers in the US continue to run controlled studies on plasma infusion treatments for COVID-19 patients.

The Plasma Alliance’s goal is different from some other plasma-related initiatives; rather than focusing on giving plasma transfusions directly to infected patients, the alliance wants to make a therapy called a polyclonal hyperimmune globulin (H-Ig).

The process pools together multiple donations of plasma. Then, the antibodies are concentrated into a liquid form, which the researchers will try to use to create a medication that can treat the virus. The therapy would have to go through clinical trials before being approved to treat COVID-19 patients.

The CoVIg-19 Plasma Bot, which Microsoft says it expects to make available through web, social, and search channels, asks a series of questions to see if a user is able to donate plasma, including medications they are taking, allergies, and other medical conditions.

If they’re eligible, users will get information about where to donate their plasma, which takes about an hour, according to the alliance. They’ll begin recruiting in the US with plans to expand to Europe.

In addition to Microsoft, the alliance includes Biotest, BPL, LFB, Octapharma, CSL Behring, and Takeda. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an adviser of the project.

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