SAN ANTONIO (June 17, 2021) — Convalescent plasma therapy was associated with better survival in blood cancer patients hospitalized with COVID-19, especially in sicker patients. The findings by the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19) are newly published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Oncology.
The Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson, is part of the CCC19. The international consortium is composed of 124 medical centers and institutions in North and South America that conduct research to learn how COVID-19 affects cancer patients.
Dimpy Shah, MD, PhD, is an epidemiologist and assistant professor of population health sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and a member of its Mays Cancer Center. She serves on the CCC19 steering committee, leads the consortium’s Epidemiology Core Committee and is a co-senior author on the study.
“Early case reports suggested that cancer patients with COVID-19 benefitted from convalescent plasma, but this is the first analysis that associated convalescent plasma with improved survival using this large, real-world data set,” Dr. Shah said.
The analysis compared the 30-day death rates of hospitalized adults with both blood cancer and COVID-19 from patient data supplied by the CCC19 consortium institutions. The analysis compared treatment data from 143 patients who received convalescent plasma and 823 who did not.
“Our study showed a 48% reduced risk of death for COVID patients who had blood cancer and had received convalescent plasma compared to similar patients who did not receive this treatment,” she said. “This survival benefit with convalescent plasma was even greater in patients who were admitted to the intensive care unit (60% reduced risk of death) and those who needed mechanical ventilation (68% reduced mortality),” she said.
Blood cancers are associated with defects in the immune system. They begin either in the bone marrow, where blood is made, or in cells of the immune system. These types of cancer include leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
Plasma is the largest component of human blood. Red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets are other major blood components. Convalescent plasma is plasma donated by patients who have recovered from an infection, such as COVID 19, and has been used to treat other patients suffering from the disease. Convalescent plasma was used to treat patients during the 1916 poliomyelitis outbreak in New York and during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, as well as later for viral infections.
“While acknowledging the limitations of non-randomized observational data, this study provides an important signal regarding the benefits of convalescent plasma. We recommend that researchers conduct randomized clinical trials to prospectively evaluate the benefits of convalescent plasma in patients with blood cancer and severe COVID-19,” added Pankil Shah, MD, PhD, MSPH, assistant professor of urology at UT Health San Antonio. As the lead data scientist, Dr. Pankil Shah performed the analysis for this CCC19 study.
Ruben Mesa, MD, FACP, executive director of the Mays Cancer Center, added, “Membership in the CCC19 is just one example of our cancer center’s commitment to provide the best possible care for patients throughout South Texas. In addition to providing evidence-based treatments, we also offer our patients participation in hundreds of cancer clinical trials led nationally and at our cancer center that evaluate the newest possible treatments.”
He continued: “Throughout the pandemic we have safely cared for our patients and encourage the public to continue getting cancer screenings to avoid the possible progression of undiagnosed cancer to stages where it is more difficult to treat. We are open and ready to safely provide cancer screenings, research opportunities and treatment to the people of South Texas.”