South Florida talent pitches in on worldwide search for coronavirus treatments

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – OneBlood, a blood donation center in Florida, and the University of Miami in Coral Gables have joined the worldwide fight against COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, also known by scientists as SARS-CoV-2.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump mentioned a new blood-related therapy was having good results. Susan Forbes, a spokeswoman for OneBlood, said he was referring to convalescent plasma, which involves collecting blood from recovered COVID-19 patients.

Forbes said it is possible that convalescent plasma contains antibodies that might be effective against the infection. The Food and Drug Administration is facilitating access to the plasma for use in patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections.

“We are already working, very closely, with the Florida Department of Health to identify people who have recovered from COVID-19 to be potential donors,” Forbes said, adding the plasma can “provide a boost to the patient’s immune system.”

At the University of Miami, Dr. Natasa Strbo is among the researchers working with Heat Biologics Inc., a North Carolina-based biotechnology company focused on the field of cancer immunotherapy. Strbo said they can generate immune cells that can directly target the infected cells in the lungs.

“We are not using a virus to induce immune response,” said Strbo, a microbiology professor. “We’re using natural human protein that is very powerful in inducing an immune response.”

Another UM professor is involved with a new treatment for COVID-19. On March 20, the FDA granted expanded access to Bellerophon Therapeutics Inc., a clinical-stage biotherapeutics company that owns INOpulse, an inhaled nitric oxide delivery system.

According to the FDA, nitric oxide is a naturally produced molecule that is critical to the immune response against pathogens and infections and could prevent disease progression in patients with mild or moderate disease.

“INOpulse is designed to treat patients in the outpatient setting, which may be critical in helping combat the further spread of the virus and significantly alleviate the mounting impact on hospitals and intensive care units” Fabian Tenenbaum, the chief executive officer of Bellerophon, said in a statement.

Dr. Roger Alvarez, a pulmonologist who is an assistant professor at the UM Miller School of Medicine’s Pulmonary Vascular Disease Clinic, is working with the New Jersey-based company. On Twitter, he refers to himself as a “Nitric Oxide Aficionado.” He is also on the front lines at Jackson Health’s intensive care units.

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