Monoclonal antibodies: Treatment for COVID-19

As people line up to get vaccinated against COVID-19, thousands of patients are still battling the virus, some hospitalized with severe illness and others dying from it. Fortunately, researchers have found a highly effective treatment, if given early, to prevent such tragic outcomes.

Monoclonal antibodies help reduce the symptoms of COVID and prevent it from making patients seriously ill. The antibodies are developed and manufactured in a lab based on antibodies provided by people who have recovered from COVID. They are not a blood product.

Holy Name Medical Center was one of the first hospitals in the nation to participate in clinical trials that offered monoclonal antibody treatment. It is now widely available to eligible patients at the medical center, provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are proud to continue leading in the care of patients with COVID,” said Dr. Thomas Birch, medical director for clinical research. “This treatment is very well tolerated and helps patients recover more quickly.”

Dr. Thomas Birch, medical director, Institute for Clinical Research. (Holy Name Medical Center)

Eligible patients must have symptoms, have tested positive for COVID and be at an increased risk for complications from the infection, according to the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration. See below for further requirements to qualify for treatment.

Anibal De Avila, 47, fit the criteria, with hypertension and another health concern that could cause him to become seriously ill from COVID.  About four or five days after testing positive for COVID and feeling ill with a cough and a debilitating headache, he received the monoclonal antibody treatment at Holy Name.

“It was like a miracle,” DeAvila said. “Before I received it, I was wondering how bad I was going to get. Two hours after the treatment, I was counting the time until I could be out of quarantine.”

Not everyone receives such immediate relief. But hundreds of patients have said that, after receiving the infusion, their downward spiral stopped and, as the next few days passed, they started feeling some relief from their symptoms.

Timing is critical for this treatment, however. The antibodies work best when given in the first two to five days of symptoms but may be given up to 10 days after the onset of the illness.

Research has shown that the antibodies bind the virus, allowing the immune system to destroy and clear it from the body. Patients typically start feeling better about 48 hours after receiving the treatment, which is given with a one-hour intravenous infusion. The goal is to prevent people from becoming so sick from the virus that they need to be hospitalized.

Patients are watched for an hour after receiving the infusion and given a pulse oximeter to monitor the oxygen level in their blood at home. Holy Name nurse practitioners provide telephone monitoring visits for follow-up care.

“Holy Name continues to help improve the outcomes of patients in the communities we serve by providing this treatment,” Dr. Birch said. “It reduces COVID-19 complications and helps reduce the need for hospitalizations.”

In addition to testing positive for COVID and being within 10 days of their first symptoms, individuals in high-risk medical groups are eligible for the antibody treatment. High-risk medical groups include:

  • 65 and older;
  • 55 and older with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, COPD or other chronic lung disease;
  • Diabetes;
  • Obesity (BMI 35 or above);
  • Have an immune disorder or undergoing immune-suppressive treatment;
  • Chronic kidney disease.

A physician referral is needed for the treatment. To learn more about monoclonal antibody treatment, click here.