CORONAVIRUS

St. Luke's sees success with experimental antibody COVID-19 treatment option

Monoclonal antibody therapy, called 'Bam,' received emergency use authorization last month

Bamlanivimab is the first antibody drug to help the immune system fight COVID-19. (Courtesy Eli Lilly/Associated Press)
Bamlanivimab is the first antibody drug to help the immune system fight COVID-19. (Courtesy Eli Lilly/Associated Press)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — To date, 16 patients at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids have received an experimental treatment for COVID-19 that was approved by federal officials early last month.

While it’s available only to a limited number of patients, for those who qualify the treatment could keep high-risk individuals from becoming severely ill.

The drug, Bamlanivimab — nicknamed “Bam” — is a monoclonal antibody therapy that was developed by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. The therapy, administered to patients intravenously, is used to treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 in children and adults who are at risk for or severe outcomes from the virus, including those with chronic medical conditions.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the antibody therapy on Nov. 9 after clinical trials showed the drug’s ability to reduce hospitalizations.

“UnityPoint Health elected to utilize this novel agent to prevent hospitalizations in patients with acute COVID-19 infection with risk factors,” St. Luke’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dustin Arnold said. “Of the patients who have received the treatment, none have been subsequently admitted to the hospital, which is supported by the literature.”

St. Luke’s hospital received a “limited supply” of the monoclonal antibodies — laboratory made antibodies that mimics an immune system and helps the patient fight off viruses.

Officials did not state how many doses they received, but Arnold said “ample supply” is available at this time.

Somewhere between one to three patients a day have received the infusion, Arnold said.

The first infusion at St. Luke’s was Nov. 20, officials said. The 61-year-old patient, Perry West, of Cedar Rapids, received a kidney transplant in July and is taking rejection medication that weakens his immune system, thus putting him at risk for severe outcomes from the novel coronavirus.

West, a corrections officer at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, tested positive for COVID-19 earlier that month. The same week, he was referred for the therapy by family doctor with UnityPoint Clinic.

West said he did not have any qualms about taking the experimental therapy. With his risk factors, he was more fearful about the possibility of ending up in the hospital and needing to be placed on a ventilator.

“I was willing to take a chance,” he said.

About a day after he received the infusion, West’s body aches lessened, his oxygen levels stabilized and his temperature improved. West still experienced symptoms after receiving the treatment, including fatigue, a low-grade fever and the “COVID fog” that affected his memory.

Those symptoms since have been reduced significantly, he said.

West noted the treatment was covered by his insurance.

This treatment “kept me out of the hospital, and that was my fear,” he said.

St. Luke’s officials say if someone has received a positive COVID-19 test and believes they are high risk, they are encouraged to contact their UnityPoint Health provider to determine if they meet the criteria to receive Bamlanivimab.

If they were tested outside of a UnityPoint Health facility, they are required by federal officials under the emergency-use authorization to provide documentation of the positive result.

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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