Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Microsoft: Our Plasma Bot will help recruit donors to create coronavirus treatment

Microsoft's Plasma Bot will help people who've recovered from COVID-19 determine whether they can donate plasma.

Coronavirus: Uncertainty all around

Microsoft has launched the CoVIg-19 Plasma Bot, a self-screening tool to help people who've recovered from the COVID-19 coronavirus donate their plasma for a treatment for the deadly disease.

Microsoft's Plasma Bot self-screening tool is supporting the CoVIg-19 Alliance, a newly established group of biopharmaceutical companies that are looking to use people's naturally produced antibodies in plasma – the liquid part of blood – for a potential large-scale treatment for coronavirus COVID-19. 

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"The use of convalescent plasma is a technique dating back to the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and was effective more recently during the SARS outbreak," Microsoft said in a blogpost

"Today, there is mounting clinical evidence that plasma collected from those who have recovered from COVID-19 can be used to treat ill COVID-19 patients."

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The CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance was founded by international biopharmaceutical companies Biotest, BPL, LFB, and Octapharma along with CSL Behring and Takeda. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also providing advisory support. 

Microsoft's Plasma Bot will be available on the Alliance's homepage but it will also be available on the web, as well as social and search channels to help raise awareness. Microsoft is also hosting the Alliance's website.   

Alliance members intend to use donors' immune globulin to create an "investigational medicine". The 'I' and the 'g' in CoVIg-19 stand for immune and globulin. 

While donated plasma can be used in direct transfusions to a patient with COVID-19, the Alliance is focused on developing polyclonal hyperimmune globulin (H-Ig), a potential treatment that concentrates the antibodies into a medicine. 

The Alliance says Microsoft will store potential donors' answers from the bot and then will share the data in aggregated form with alliance members. The company may also share aggregate findings publicly through journals and with other scientists. 

The bot isn't designed to collect personal information, but it will ask details such as whether a person has tested positive for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, which is required by the FDA for plasma donation, as well as the donor's zip or postal code. The bot will provide instructions to the nearest plasma donation center.   

Recruitment will start in the US, and then expand to Europe, according to Microsoft, which notes that more than half of the eligible US population live within 15 miles of one of 500 centers run by Alliance member companies.  

The world has lots of potential plasma donors. According to data collected by John Hopkins University, over 170,000 people have died from COVID-19 worldwide, but over 658,000 have recovered. 

In the US, 73,527 people have recovered from the virus. Germany and Spain have the largest number of people in Europe who've recovered, at 95,200 and 82,514, respectively.  

Alliance members are collaborating on plasma collection, clinical trial development, and product manufacturing.

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Microsoft said it was convinced the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance's approach could save lives sooner than other approaches being developed. It also noted Alliance members had committed to "working together for the public good, setting aside commercial and competitive goals".

Microsoft said it is urgent that donors are recruited immediately. "We're now in an especially important but small window of opportunity with a critical mass of people hitting peak immunity as they recover from COVID-19," it said. 

Donors must be free of symptoms for at least 28 days before donating plasma or symptom-free for at least 14 days with evidence of a negative diagnostic test for COVID-19 after they recover.