By Alexandra Becker
Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization for a drug called bamlanivimab, which harnesses monoclonal antibodies to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 disease.
Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made proteins designed to mimic the immune system’s production of natural antibodies. Bamlanivimab, which was shown in clinical trials to reduce the need for hospitalization from COVID-19, is specifically designed to block the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which attaches itself to human cells and is key to the virus’ survival within the human body.
“This treatment is essentially giving patients a large dose of these antibodies, which help support that person’s immune system,” said Dr. Annamaria Macaluso Davidson, Associate Vice President of Medical Operations at Memorial Hermann Medical Group. “Once these antibodies deploy and start combating the virus, they help reduce the viral load in that patient, and because you’re reducing the viral load, you’re also reducing the chance of these severe symptoms, which can require hospitalization.”
The therapy has shown promising results but isn’t recommended for everyone. Davidson said that based on FDA guidance, clinical providers should offer the treatment to patients who have recently tested positive and who are most at risk for developing severe symptoms related to COVID-19.
“When identifying a patient for this therapy, we’re looking at two factors: age and co-morbidities,” said Davidson. “Patients who are 65 and older or anyone who has hypertension, lung disease, heart disease or are immunocompromised would typically qualify because they are at a greater risk for severe complications from COVID-19.”
Davidson added that the treatment is not authorized for patients who are already hospitalized or on oxygen therapy due to COVID-19.
“Our goal is to catch the infection early because there’s a window of time when this treatment is most effective,” Davidson said. “If possible, we want to give this medication to a patient within the first seven days of their infection.”
Bamlanivimab is administered in a single dose through an IV, so the therapy takes place in a clinical setting. Davidson urged people to accept it if they qualify.
“It’s been amazing to see how our patients respond to this treatment,” Davidson said. “We’re seeing very minor symptoms of COVID-19 after receiving monoclonal antibodies—if any—which is excellent since we want to keep the disease from progressing to the point where the patient needs to be hospitalized.”
She added that anyone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19 and may be at high risk should talk to their doctor about receiving monoclonal antibodies.
“It’s absolutely worth it,” Davidson said. “Even if you don’t feel sick yet, the goal of this treatment is to keep you from ending up in that worse-case scenario, which we’ve seen far too many times.”