EU readies up to $53 million to boost collection of plasma to fight COVID-19

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has made available up to 45 million euros ($53 million) to increase the collection of plasma from COVID-19 survivors for the treatment of people who contract the disease, a spokesman told Reuters.

The move confirms the EU's growing confidence in experimental therapies based on so-called convalescent plasma, which is currently used in hospitals for direct transfusions to critically ill patients and is being tested to develop possible medicines against COVID-19.

Money is coming from an emergency fund that the European Union has so far used only for highly sensitive issues throughout the pandemic, including the purchase of another COVID-19 treatment and potential vaccines.

Grants will be distributed to blood collection centres to help them buy new equipment, such as testing kits and machines that separate plasma from blood, the EU spokesman said.

Collection centres run by private companies could also access the funding, an EU official said.

Spain's Grifols and a corporate alliance led by Japanese drugmaker Takeda have collected convalescent plasma to develop a medicine against COVID-19.

The Takeda-led alliance, which also includes Biotest AG, CSL Behring and Octapharma Plasma, said earlier it was set to delay the launch of clinical trials on its plasma-based drug which were due to begin in July because of regulatory issues.

The European Commission's spokesman said the money made available to help the collection of plasma could also be used to cover costs to retool drugs against COVID-19.

But "it is expected that a large part of the available funding will be used for plasma", the spokesman said.

The EU sealed in July supply deals with Roche for its arthritis drug RoActemra and with Merck for its multiple sclerosis drug Rebif, which were both being retooled to treat COVID-19 patients alone or in combination with other drugs.

The Commission declined to clarify on Wednesday whether funds were made available to Roche and Merck to repurpose their drugs or whether the supply deal with Roche was still valid after RoActemra failed its COVID-19 trial earlier on Wednesday

Money for plasma comes from an EU emergency fund which the Commission said on Wednesday deployed 63 million euros to buy remdesivir, the only drug at this stage authorised in the bloc against COVID-19.

The bloc has also committed about 2 billion euros of the rainy-day fund to secure advance purchase deals of potential vaccines against the disease, EU officials told Reuters.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Nick Macfie)