Experimental drug: Does bamlanivimab help to keep COVID-19 patients from needing hospitalization?

Dec. 7, 2020

UCHealth has received a limited supply of a new experimental COVID-19 drug – called bamlanivimab – that may lessen the severity of illness in high-risk people, keeping them out of the hospital.

UCHealth was allocated nearly 650 doses of bamlanivimab for use at four locations across Colorado. Supplies of the medication – which is in high demand across the nation – are extremely limited.

A photo of Bamlanivimab
Bamlanivimab is an experimental drug. Researchers are trying to determine whether it will help keep patients who have COVID-19 from needing hospitalization. Photo: Lindsey Reznicek, UCHealth.

Allocations were made to states based on population and COVID-19 cases. 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 experimental treatment will be 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.

Diane Clancy of Castle Rock recently received an infusion of bamlanivimab 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,” Clancy said. 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, Clancy, who has asthma, 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 received the infusion at Memorial Hospital Central and is grateful to receive the experimental drug.

Clancy said she appreciates receiving the medication.

bamlanivimab IV bag
Those who receive the antibody treatment will receive bamlanivimab one time, via intravenous infusion.

“I couldn’t have asked for better care. Today, I feel wonderful,” she said recently.

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. Those who receive the antibody treatment will receive it one time, via intravenous infusion.

About the author

Cary Vogrin is a media relations specialist for UCHealth. She joined UCHealth in 2015, coordinating media stories and responding to media requests for UCHealth hospitals and clinics in southern Colorado.

Prior to joining UCHealth, Vogrin was a newspaper reporter and editor, having worked at The Fort Dodge Messenger in Fort Dodge, Iowa; The Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, California; The Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado; and The Gazette in Colorado Springs, where she covered health care.