Patients newly diagnosed with COVID-19 have the best results if they can access monoclonal antibody treatment immediately to prevent severe illness and hospitalization. UCHealth doctors are encouraging newly diagnosed high-risk individuals to seek this therapy and ask their physician if it is appropriate.
Researchers at the CU School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus have learned a great deal about how to treat COVID-19 over the past year. Based on new data, federal treatment guidelines have designated monoclonal antibody treatments as having the strongest level of evidence supporting early use in high-risk COVID-19 outpatients to prevent hospitalization. The antibodies work by blocking the virus that causes COVID-19 from attaching to human cells, making it more difficult for the virus to reproduce and cause harm. Although still under Emergency Authorization Use (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), full approval is likely forthcoming in the summer.
In late November, UCHealth was able to provide the monoclonal antibody bamlanivimab at several of its locations around the state through a random allocation system. Now the infusion of either bamlanivimab/etesevimab (Eli Lilly) or casirivimab/imdevimab (Regeneron) are administered for a highly effective treatment, which is widely available for patients who meet the eligibility requirements.
Gary Springs, 81, of Lakewood, Colorado, and his wife Sharon, 78, were diagnosed with COVID-19 together in early December. They both have pre-existing medical conditions and were referred by their provider to receive monoclonal antibodies at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. While Sharon didn’t meet the required criteria to receive the drug due to her oxygen dependency levels upon arrival to the hospital, Gary was able to receive the infusion.
“I felt really good the next day and am so incredibly grateful. My wife had to stay in the hospital for eight days, so it leads me to believe my recovery or outcome could have been different had I not received the treatment,” said Gary Springs.
“Vaccines opening up to the broader population has been welcomed news. But, we are still treating a significant number of patients for the virus, and it’s accelerating at the moment,” said Dr. Adit Ginde, a UCHealth emergency medicine physician who has been leading a number of the COVID-19 drug trials. “We now have greater access to proven therapies. We need to reach the populations of Coloradans that are more at risk to get the disease and more at risk to be hospitalized. Monoclonal antibody treatment reduces risk of hospitalization and death by up to 90% — it just doesn’t get much better than that.”
Individuals suspected to have COVID-19 or newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients or their providers can reach out to UCHealth’s Virtual Urgent Care for a virtual visit to determine if they meet the criteria. Infusions are available at multiple UCHealth locations around the state, and already, 1,316 patients have received one of the antibody treatments.
“We want to get patients in as soon as possible. Usually this is same day or the next day if they are eligible,” said Dr. Chris Davis, Medical Director for UCHealth’s Virtual Health Center.
A new $8.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will assist with these efforts for the next two years at UCHealth and across the state of Colorado. Dr. Ginde is leading a team of researchers from the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute to study how best to reach the population, focusing on racial/ethnic minorities, older adults and those with underlying conditions who are at the greatest risk of serious disease and hospitalization. At the same time, they will test treatment effectiveness as new variants of the virus emerge.
“Informing the public and healthcare providers about rapidly accessing this treatment will keep people out of the hospital and undoubtedly save lives,” Ginde said.