Local company leads effort in virus treatment

Staff Written News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor 

Doctors and scientists all over the world are scrambling to develop effective treatments for COVID-19, the upper-respiratory coronavirus currently sweeping the globe. One cutting-edge treatment is being developed right in Morgan County’s backyard at the $2 billion Takeda plant in Stanton Springs Industrial Park near Covington. 

“Our team is excited to be part of this—to really make a difference in the lives of people affected by COVID-19,” said Gabe Khouli, a spokesman for the Takeda manufacturing plant in Stanton Springs, . “This is the kind of work we are doing, but the midst of a global pandemic, it really raises the stakes.”

Takeda expects to begin clinical trials in coming weeks to test out a  “Convalescent therapy” which uses the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients to utilize their antibodies. The idea is to give those suffering from COVID-19 the plasma from recovered patients to achieve “passive immunity.” The ill patient “borrows” the antibodies from the recovered patients to fight the virus. 

Convalescent therapies have been used against other diseases, including for treating Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Ebola.

“This is not panacea, and it’s not a silver bullet,” explained Khouli. “This won’t be a cure, but what this kind of medicine will do, hopefully, will prevent some deaths, help people recover faster, and be given to healthcare workers on the frontlines. We are hoping this treatment can lessen the symptoms of those who are severely ill from COVID-19.”

Morgan County owns a 15 percent share in Stanton Springs as part of the four-county effort to create Industrial Park focused on medicine and technology. The vision for Stanton Springs was born about 20 years, as Morgan County joined with Walton, Newton, and Jasper counties to recruit medical and technological industries to the region. 

In May, Takeda formed the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance, an unprecedented move among global competitors, to join forces with other plasma companies around the world to accelerate the process of creating a plasma-based treatment for COVID-19. According to Takeda, the alliance includes Biotest, BPL, CSL Behring, LFB, Octapharma, ADMA Biologics, BioPharma Plasma, GC Pharma, and Sanquin. 

“It’s not usual for competitors to come together like this,” said Khouli. “But the pandemic made us rethink that so we can work together as fast as possible to help society during these unprecedented times.”

While treating COVID-19 is a new endeavor, the method is not. 

“This technique has been around for decades, and used for other respiratory diseases in the past. It’s what our daily work has always been,” explained Khouli. “But now we are going to try it with COVID.”

Takeda is preparing to begin clinical trials this summer. 

“We have to test to see if the clinical trials will yield statistically significants improvements,” said Khouli. “That will be the next major milestone.”

Khouli hopes the new treatments will “bridge the gap” until a vaccine is developed. 

“Until there is a vaccine, we hope this will help with the most serious patients and improve outcomes,” said Khouli. “We want to use it where it’s most needed, because we do only have a limited supply of it.”

According to Khouli, the biggest challenge in the process thus far has been collecting plasma and encourages the public to donate. 

“That’s the big ask, the call to action we need right now,” said Khouli. “Especially if you’ve recovered from COVID-19, but also just in general. In the midst of a pandemic, everything is in short supply, because people are staying home and being smart, but not donating as much.”

“Partnership and collaboration are critical to the success of the CoVIg-19 program,” said Julie Kim, President of Plasma-Derived Therapies Business Unit, Takeda, and co-leader of the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance. “We now have enough plasma to initiate clinical manufacturing, but more is needed to ensure both speed and scale. The growing and active involvement of leading companies from outside the plasma industry, who support this Alliance as well as convalescent plasma for transfusion initiatives – demonstrates the potential of convalescent plasma to fight this public health crisis. Together, we all share the same goal – to save lives by using the power of convalescent plasma in different ways.”

Find out more about how you can donate at the following websites. The CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance website, which is focused on promoting donation of convalescent plasma for use in the medicine Takeda is making, visit: www.covig-19plasmaalliance.org/en-us#recruitment.

You can also visit the Fight Is In Us website, which is a broader coalition that includes the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance and others to donate plasma: www.thefightisinus.org/en-us#home

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