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UCHealth begins treating patients with new antibody drug aimed at keeping high-risk people with COVID-19 out of the hospital

Dec. 4, 2020

Aurora, Colo. (Dec. 4, 2020) – UCHealth has received a limited supply of a new experimental COVID-19 drug that may lessen the severity of illness in high-risk people, keeping them out of the hospital.

UCHealth was allocated nearly 650 doses of the drug – called bamlanivimab – for use at four locations across Colorado. Supplies of the medication – which is in high demand across the nation – are extremely limited. Allocations were made to states based on population and COVID-19 cases.

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Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs began using the drug Tuesday, Nov. 24, when two people with a COVID-19 diagnosis received an infusion of the medication. Three others have since received the treatment at Memorial Central. The treatment also is available at University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins and at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.

Bamlanivimab is a potential treatment option for people with a COVID-19 diagnosis who have had mild to moderate symptoms for 10 days or less and who are deemed to be at high risk of becoming very sick from the virus, including the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or chronic kidney disease. It’s also an option for certain pediatric patients over the age of 12.

Will Stanton of Denver decided to get tested for COVID-19 on Nov. 23 after some nasal congestion and loss of smell.  As an asthmatic and diabetic, he was concerned that his underlying health conditions could cause him to become very ill.  He spoke to doctors on a UCHealth Virtual Visit once he received the positive test result on Nov. 27. They suggested he would be a good candidate for the drug, and he received the treatment on Nov 30.

“I was so grateful to try it, and I believe the drug really shortened the duration of my illness,” he said.

Diane Clancy of Castle Rock received an infusion of bamlanivimab on Nov. 27 at the encouragement of her son, who lives in Atlanta. “I was a little hesitant at first, but my son did a lot of research – and said to me, ‘Mom you need to do it.’

Clancy became infected with COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus by a grandchild. “I just started to feel terrible on Wednesday and Thanksgiving,” she said, recounting she had a bad headache, slight fever and sinus pain. An X-ray taken during an emergency department visit to UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital revealed she had pneumonia in one lung. Medical providers entered her in the bamlanivimab database. At age 79, she also has asthma, so she qualified to potentially receive the treatment. “Then the nurse came back and said, ‘you know you are very fortunate. I think you really should go ahead and follow through.’”

The next day, Clancy was able to receive the infusion at Memorial Hospital Central and is grateful, saying she could be in the hospital now had her symptoms worsened.  “I couldn’t have asked for better care. Today I feel wonderful.”

Lindsey Junglas of Severance was the first person to receive the drug at Poudre Valley Hospital.

On Nov. 24, she noticed some nasal congestion. She was completely fine otherwise for four days. “No fever. No aches. No nothing,” she said. Until she woke up five days later with a dry cough. Out of an abundance of caution she immediately got tested. That afternoon, the results came back positive for COVID-19. The symptoms progressed very quickly after that.

Because of a history of asthma and other underlying health conditions, her doctor at UCHealth Primary Care – Timnath determined she was eligible to be entered into the lottery system that randomly identifies patients to receive the drug. Less than an hour later, Junglas learned her name was selected to receive a dose of bamlanivimab, which she received the next day, exactly one week after her first symptoms appeared.

“It is worth a shot. There is nothing scarier than seeing that ‘COVID detected’ test result come back – especially if you have underlying issues,” she said.

The morning after her bamlanivimab treatment, Junglas said she was already feeling a bit better. “My congestion has improved dramatically, and my cough loosened up so I can get stuff out of my lungs,” she said. “I don’t know if it is the placebo effect or not, but I do feel a little bit better. My husband even said I look better today than yesterday.”

Andrew Harmon, UCHealth’s interim director of pharmacy services in northern Colorado, describes bamlanivimab as another tool providers can use to combat COVID-19. “The interesting thing about this one is that it aims to help patients who are coping with this disease from home. The whole goal is to keep them out of the hospital.”

The treatment option comes at a time Colorado is experiencing record hospitalizations for COVID-19. “This antibody treatment is still being studied, and there’s a lot that remains unknown about its effectiveness,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director for infection prevention at UCHealth. “If we can lessen the severity of illness and keep people out of the hospital, those are beds we can use for other patients with more acute needs.”

The treatment is not authorized for patients who are already hospitalized with COVID-19 or who require oxygen therapy due to the virus. Physicians can recommend patients to be considered to receive the drug, and high-risk patients with a COVID-19 diagnosis are chosen via a random allocation process aimed at ensuring those who qualify receive an equal chance of receiving the medication.

“Given that there are many, many people with COVID-19 who would qualify for this medication, I wish it could be offered to everyone. This is a time where we wish there was more available for every person who qualifies under U.S. Food and Drug Administration criteria,” Barron said.

Bamlanivimab received emergency use authorization from the FDA in November. It is a monoclonal antibody that scientists hope will lower the viral load and give an infected person’s immune system time to make its own antibodies. People chosen for the antibody treatment will receive it one time, via intravenous infusion.

Contact: Cary Vogrin