Sanquin's race against the clock for a drug against corona

Sanquin is going to collect plasma with antibodies from 16,000 recovered corona patients in order to be able to develop a medicine for current corona patients. "The amount of antibodies in the blood decreases over time. So it's a race against time," says Daphne Thijssen, member of the Executive Board and director of the Blood Bank division, about the large-scale project. "Thanks to the financial contribution of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, it is possible to switch quickly."

Without targeted treatment or a vaccine to prevent infections, it will not be possible to eradicate the coronavirus. That is the conclusion that can be drawn after Sanquin's second immunity measurement. That study showed that 5.4 percent of Dutch blood donors have antibodies against the coronavirus. The earlier estimate of 60 percent immunity to 'automatically eradicate' the virus is therefore a long way off.

Sanquin sees the development of a plasma medicine as an essential next step. This could possibly prevent people in high-risk groups from getting corona, or perhaps even help cure patients with corona. In order to achieve this, donors with antibodies are needed. But it is urgent. The level of antibodies in recovered corona patients decreases slightly over time. For this reason Sanquin will have to complete the project in the autumn.

Few donors, large demand

In order for Sanquin Plasma Products (a subsidiary of Sanquin), to be able to develop a medicine against COVID-19, the existing plasma and whole blood donors are needed. Donors who have had COVID-19, and have therefore produced antibodies, will be asked by Sanquin to donate their so-called anti-COVID-19 plasma four to six times on one of Sanquin's blood banks in the country. In total Sanquin needs 16,000 donors to collect 30,000 kilos of anti-COVID-19 plasma. This enables Sanquin Plasma Products to develop a medicine, in collaboration with an alliance of leading international plasma medicine manufacturers.

Personally approached

As director of Sanquin's Blood Bank division, Daphne Thijssen is responsible for the collection of the anti-COVID plasma. She explains how Sanquin is coping with the corona crisis. "Thanks to our research into immunity among blood donors, we know how many donors produce antibodies. A calculation teaches us that we can collect part of the intended number of kilos from our own donor base of 350,000 donors. These are committed people who are eager to commit themselves to society, especially in this corona crisis. The Blood Bank will check for each donor individually whether there is a chance that they have the proper antibodies. If so, they will personally be invited to come and donate several times for this purpose, and the plasma will be tested. Moreover, thanks to our research we also know that most donors with antibodies are located in the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg, so that is where our targeted search among our donors begins". Donors do not have to contact the Blood Bank themselves, they are approached by Sanquin.

Government assignment

Thanks to the subsidy from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Sanquin can both carry out its primary task - collecting enough blood and plasma for Dutch hospitals - and also 'pull off an extraordinary project in an extraordinary time for the Netherlands', according to the Sanquin Blood Bank Director. "Within Sanquin plasma collection, production of plasma medicines, diagnostics and scientific research are close to each other. With our research results and initiatives, all in the fight against corona, we have proven our flywheel effect".

Because of the anti-COVID-19 operation, Sanquin has to pull out all the stops. "Via the GGD we already received a lot of applications, but we have to scale up. That's not possible without financing. It's an extensive project that falls within our field of knowledge, but outside our primary task". The Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport also acknowledges that Sanquin can make a substantial contribution. "Minister Hugo de Jonge has promised to make this extra work possible with a financial contribution totalling 10 million euros. Thanks to this contribution we can start immediately with a rapid expansion of our capacity in order to be able to carry out this extra work properly".