How Blood Plasma Can Save Lives in an Amazing Way

Blood Plasma

The yellowish fluid remaining after filtering out red and white blood cells from the blood is known as plasma. In healthy individuals, it contains approximately 3500 different proteins, some of which play crucial roles in the body. Examples include albumin, which serves as a transport protein for distributing substances or hormones in the body, and diverse immunoglobulins that function as antibodies to neutralize pathogens.

These components render blood plasma a valuable resource, profitably utilized for decades through plasma donations. One notable application lies in the treatment of hemophilia patients whose blood clotting is insufficient. Proteins used in replacement therapy are predominantly derived from donor plasma. However, certain preparations can also be artificially synthesized.

The Untapped Potential of Plasma in Pharmaceutical Development

Although plasma has a long-standing tradition in medical applications, its full potential is far from realized. 70 out of 270 researchers are working diligently on plasma-based drug development, according to Andreas Liebminger, the global head of plasma product development at Takeda’s Vienna facility.

Our focus areas include preparations for individuals with acquired immunodeficiency, the development of more efficient and faster manufacturing processes for therapeutics, and the informatics analysis of plasma for disease research,” emphasizes Liebminger.

So far, only a handful of the thousands of protein variants in blood plasma have been utilized. In replacement therapies, these variants are administered to patients lacking specific variants due to genetic conditions. A natural goal is to identify additional diseases where drug delivery through plasma could be beneficial.

Rising Demand for Antibody Replacement Therapies

Plasma production at the Takeda company.
Plasma production at the Takeda company.

Liebminger highlights that the rapidly growing sector at Takeda is antibody replacement therapies. “Secondary immunodeficiency,” or acquired immunodeficiency, is primarily responsible for the rising demand. “This includes patients undergoing chemotherapy or those immunosuppressed after a liver transplant. They need artificial administration of antibodies to protect them from pathogens,” explains the researcher.

For this group, researchers are developing immunoglobulin cocktails administered over an extended period, triggering defense responses against a range of viruses, bacteria, and fungal spores, including those causing widespread diseases like measles. The demand for such preparations, administered in doses of a few grams, has risen from 100 to 250 tons since the 2010s, highlighting the significant growth attributed to medical advancements.

Improving Yield in Plasma Extraction

A major research area focuses not on the active substances themselves but on optimizing their production and administration. The goal is to increase yield. “Currently, about 130 plasma donations are needed to supply an immunodeficiency patient. For rare diseases like hemophilia, it’s even 1200 donations,” calculates Liebminger.

Efforts aim to reduce these numbers by enhancing the yield during plasma fractionation in 10,000-liter tanks. Overcoming challenges in preventing even minimal losses at such large volumes is crucial. Similar attention is directed toward reducing processing time. “Currently, it takes seven to twelve months from plasma donation to the completion of the preparation. This timeframe should be significantly shortened,” states Liebminger.

To make the treatment more practical, researchers are also striving to discover new formulations and increase concentrations, which is a significant advantage for patients receiving immunoglobulin therapy through infusion.

Advanced Analytical Methods

In the laboratory, researchers are looking for new proteins and potential applications.
In the laboratory, researchers are looking for new proteins and potential applications.

Beyond expanding replacement therapies, researchers are venturing into entirely new plasma applications. Big data analyses in bioinformatics play a vital role in creating the necessary foundation for this exploration. Liebminger explains, “In the past decade, there has been tremendous progress in protein analytics. In a newly initiated project, we use machine learning algorithms to identify patterns in patients’ plasma indicative of diseases.

This method aims to enable the use of more plasma proteins for therapeutics than before.” It is believed that the protein composition in plasma changes with many diseases, a change that could be compensated for with corresponding preparations. One focus of Takeda’s plasma research, according to Liebminger, includes genetically induced autoimmune diseases. “However, we are still in the preclinical stage. It will take years before corresponding therapeutics are available to patients.