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Johns Hopkins to study coronavirus treatment using plasma of recovered patients with funding from Bloomberg, Maryland

Johns Hopkins is conducting promising research into a possible treatment method that aims to fight the new coronavirus using the blood of patients who have recovered from it, with $4 million in funding gifted by the state of Maryland and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The research, led by Arturo Casadevall, an infectious disease expert and faculty member of both Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, will use the blood plasma of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to determine if it can help those suffering from — or at risk of contracting — the highly contagious upper respiratory disease.

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No cure, vaccine or treatment regimen currently exists for the new virus, which has sickened more than 570,000 and killed nearly 27,000 around the world.

Bloomberg Philanthropies will donate $3 million to the research project, with the state of Maryland providing $1 million, according to the news release.

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Virus vaccines are frequently made from a weakened form of the microbe that caused the disease, which enables patients’ immune systems to attack the familiar intruder.

In a Friday night email, Casadevall said he owed thanks to Bloomberg for supplying “a tremendous shot in the arm that will allow us to get going on deploying convalescent sera in the fight against coronavirus."

Casadevall, in a recent medical journal article co-authored with Liise-anne Pirofski of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said though a blood-based serum might not be able to cure the disease in those infected by it, the benefits likely outweigh the risks.

“As we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, we recommend that institutions consider the emergency use of convalescent sera and begin preparations as soon as possible," they wrote earlier this month in the in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. “

The article argues that serums have been helpful in fighting recent international epidemics, including the 2003 SARS1 (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic, the 2009 swine flu epidemic, the 2012 MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) epidemic and the 2013 West African Ebola epidemic.

Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City who suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president this month, said the disease requires urgent attention and called it “the greatest public health challenge of our generation” in a statement included in the Friday news release. He added he hopes the blood plasma research can not only save lives of patients but also safeguard the lives of healthcare workers on the front lines.

Though Johns Hopkins will lead the research, other medical centers and doctors from nearly two dozen hospitals and research centers will participate, including researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the Stanford University Medical Center in California, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

The plasma will be isolated after it is harvested from donors — both COVID-19 and patients who have not contracted the virus but are considered high risk or likely to be exposed — at local Red Cross blood banks or the New York Blood Bank, which is collaborating in this effort.

In a statement, Hogan said the state is fortunate to be surrounded by some of the best health research facilities in the world.

“I am confident in our state’s ability to be a leader in developing treatments and perhaps even a vaccine for COVID-19,” said Gov. 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.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley contributed to this article.

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