COVID-19: ASTCT Provides Interim Guidelines for Transplantation

Mark S. Lesney

March 26, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 guidance in Medscape's COVID-19 Clinical Guidelines Resource Center.

The American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy (ASTCT) has released interim guidelines for the care of hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) and cellular therapy patients in the light of the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

The guidelines, summarized briefly below, focus on diagnostic and treatment considerations, evaluation of patients prior to initializing HCT and cellular therapy, and cell donor evaluation. Much of the guideline relies upon recommendations developed by the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (ESBMT). These guidelines were updated on March 16.

The ASTCT document focuses on patient-treatment specifics and does not cover specific infection-prevention policies and procedures, instead suggesting that local and institutional guidelines, such as those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, should be followed. They did recommend that, in the local presence of COVID-19, "clinic visits that are not critical should be either deferred or substituted with telemedicine visits if deemed appropriate and feasible."

Diagnostic Considerations

In any patient with upper or lower respiratory symptoms, obtain polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for SARS-CoV-2, where possible, in addition to other respiratory virus PCR testing from any respiratory sample obtained, following CDC recommendations for sample collection and processing, which are continuously being updated on the CDC website.

These recommendations include nasal sampling, rather than oral sampling, and the discouraging of nasal washes where avoidable. If nasal washing is performed, it should be done with appropriate personal protective equipment as described by the CDC. The CDC has also provided additional infection prevention and control information for known and suspected COVID-19 patients in health care settings.

In patients positive for SARS-CoV-2 in an upper respiratory tract sample, chest imaging should be considered.

Preliminary reports suggest that there may be a discrepancy between upper- and lower-tract specimen positivity. Therefore, even when SARS-CoV-2 is not detected in an upper respiratory sample, the ASTCT recommends that chest imaging should be considered for lower respiratory tract infection when clinical symptoms of lower respiratory tract infection are present, including shortness of breath, hypoxia, and tachypnea.

With regard to routine bronchoalveolar lavage, the ASTCT recommends against it if a patient tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 given the risk of transmission among health care workers. The exception is in the case of suspected coinfection based on abnormal chest imaging and in patients for whom it is clinically indicated (for example, those receiving invasive mechanical ventilation). In addition to testing bronchoalveolar lavage samples for SARS-CoV-2, "copathogens should be evaluated and treated."


Treatment Considerations

"At this point no recommendations can be made on specific therapies due to limited data and unknown risk versus benefit; additional recommendations will be forthcoming. Even less data is available for pediatric patients. Treatment for viral, bacterial, and fungal copathogens should be optimized," according to the ASTCT.

However, the society lists several therapies currently under consideration, which may be available through compassionate-use programs and are being investigated in current clinical trials in several countries, "including lopinavir/ritonavir, ribavirin, hydroxychloroquine, darunavir/cobicistat, and interferons-alpha and -beta." Remdesivir, in particular, is being evaluated in a National Institutes of Health–sponsored, placebo-controlled clinical trial (NCT04280705).

In case of known or suspected COVID-19 with normal imaging and no or mild symptoms, no therapy is recommended. However, if symptoms progress or imaging is abnormal, an infectious disease specialist or department should be consulted, according to the ASTCT.

Evaluation Prior to HCT or Cellular Therapy

"There is sufficient concern that COVID-19 could have a significant impact on posttransplant or posttherapy outcomes," according to the guidelines, and the ASTCT provided the following recommendations to be considered in known or suspected COVID-19 patients. In particular, practitioners need to weigh the risk of delaying or altering therapy plans with the risk of progression of underlying disease.

If SARS-CoV-2 is detected in a respiratory specimen, HCT or cellular therapy procedures should be deferred. Therapy should also be deferred in HCT and cellular therapy candidates with close contact with a person infected with SARS-CoV-2 and in those patients who have traveled to a high-risk area or had close contact with a person traveling from an area at high risk for COVID-19.

In the case of a patient in a community with widespread disease, "all HCT and cellular therapy candidates should undergo screening for SARS-CoV-2 infection by PCR in respiratory specimens at the time of initial evaluation and 2 days prior to conditioning/lymphodepletion, regardless of the presence of symptoms, if testing is available."

Procedures to be deferred include peripheral blood stem cell mobilization, bone marrow harvest, T-cell collections, and conditioning/lymphodepletion. These should not be performed for at least 14 days (preferably 21 days) from the day of last contact, according to the ASTCT. Two consecutive negative PCR tests each approximately 1 week apart (deferral for 14 days minimum), should be obtained, if available.

In areas with high community spread, the guidelines also state that "interim treatment and/or longer deferral of definite therapy should be considered when feasible (for example, multiple myeloma, germ cell tumors, consolidative transplants)."

Similar considerations should be afforded to potential cellular donors. Donors with SARS-CoV-2 detected in a respiratory sample are considered ineligible. Those meeting exposure criteria for patients, as listed above, should be excluded from donation for at least 28 days. "In individual circumstances, a donor may be considered eligible if respiratory samples are negative for SARS-CoV-2 by PCR and donor is asymptomatic. Donor should be closely monitored for COVID-19."

In the case of unrelated donors, the ASTCT recommends referral to the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) guidelines for updated guidance, but points out that, according to the NMDP, the Food and Drug Administration reports that there have been no reported or suspected cases of transfusion-transmitted COVID-19 to date and that "no cases of transfusion-transmission were ever reported for the other two coronaviruses that emerged during the past 2 decades [SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and MERS-CoV, which causes Mideast respiratory syndrome]."

In the updated ESBMT guidelines, this recommendation was made in reference to the greater spread of COVID-19: "It is therefore strongly recommended to have secured stem cell product access by freezing the product before start of conditioning and, in situations when this is not possible, to have an alternative donor as a backup. For low-risk patients, it is recommended to postpone the start of the transplant procedure if deemed to be safe to do so. This includes both allogeneic and autologous transplant procedures."

In a recent webinar, Pavan Reddy, MD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and ASTCT President; Alpana Waghmare, MD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle; and Roy Chemaly, MD, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, and chair of the ASTCT Transplant Infectious Disease Special Interest Group, discussed the guidelines and provided some updated information.

Dr. Reddy stated that, at the University of Michigan, they were delaying all nonurgent transplants, largely for myeloma, and are postponing even allotransplants. "The transplants we are not delaying are the high-risk AMLs … and in cases where we truly cannot delay transplants because of patient condition or, in some cases, the donor situation."

Dr. Chemaly and Dr. Waghmare both agreed that their centers were following a similar approach.

With regard to patient testing, all three institution have recently moved to testing everyone a few days before transplant regardless of symptoms.

They also pointed out that essentially all clinical trials were being put on hold during the crisis, except for those few where patients would be put in danger if the trial were interrupted.

The guidelines discuss in depth the rationale, toxicity, and dosages for use of select agents, including remdesivir, chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine, ribavirin, and tocilizumab. There was some concern expressed about shortages developing in these drugs, which serve a number of other patient communities, in particular the possibility of a tocilizumab shortage was of concern.

Steroids and intravenous immunoglobulins are not are not recommended, according to the guidelines, which also stated that adjunctive therapies such as antibiotics should be considered.

Dr. Chemaly, Dr. Reddy, and Dr. Waghmare did not provide disclosure in the webinar.

The ASTCT recommends following the World Health Organization and CDC COVID-19 pages for continued updates and information on other aspects of the pandemic.

SOURCE: ASTCT Response to COVID-19. 2020.

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