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Scientists have been working hard to find new ways to treat COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies are one of the most promising treatments.

What Are Monoclonal Antibodies?

When a pathogen such as virus or bacteria enters the body, your immune system recognizes it as foreign. Your immune system then produces Y-shaped proteins called antibodies that attach to the pathogen and stop it from entering cells. Antibodies also help destroy the pathogen.

Monoclonal antibodies are antibodies that scientists have created in the lab to act like “substitute” antibodies in someone with a disease.

Researchers design monoclonal antibodies to attach to a single specific substance in the body. These antibodies help the immune system attack the disease by mimicking the body’s antibodies or supporting the immune system’s work.

Several different monoclonal antibodies are already important in fighting certain cancers or slowing the progression of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

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How Do Monoclonal Antibodies Fight COVID-19?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized several different monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19. One of these is a drug called bamlanivimab. The other is a combination of the drugs casirivimab and imdevimab given together.

These drugs specifically look for and attach to the spike protein that sticks out of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. When they attach to the spike protein, they can block the virus’s ability to enter cells, thereby slowing down infection.

Who Can Receive Monoclonal Antibodies?

These treatments are for people who have mild or moderate COVID-19 with a high risk of severe disease.

​​​​​​​UPMC received two monoclonal antibody infusion treatment products for administration in outpatient settings. Infusion center locations throughout UPMC’s service area can administer available monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 positive patients who meet specific criteria for whom the antibodies may be an effective treatment. For patients to be considered for the therapy, patients must meet established criteria.

  • UPMC providers: Search “Monoclonal Antibody” on Infonet to view UPMC’s eligibility criteria.
  • Non-UPMC providers: Visit UPMC.com/MAI.
  • Potential patients: If you want to know if you qualify, talk to your doctor. Providers or patients can call 866-804-5251 to get help with next steps.

Patients must be at least 12 years old and weigh at least 88 pounds to receive these treatments.

People who have already developed severe COVID-19, including those who are hospitalized or receiving oxygen therapy, should not receive this treatment. Patients with COVID-19 who are in the hospital or require mechanical ventilation could become worse if they receive monoclonal antibodies.

Individual facilities may set their own criteria for which patients receive monoclonal antibodies.

How Do These Treatments Work?

Patients receive monoclonal antibody treatments as intravenous (IV) infusions. An infusion involves placing a needle in a vein and gradually sending the medicine through the IV.

Patients must receive this treatment at an office or clinic that’s able to provide infusions. A medical professional administers the treatment and monitors the patient for any serious reactions.

Both treatments (bamlanivimab and the combination of casirivimab and imdevimab) involve a one-time IV infusion that takes at least one hour. With both treatments, patients must wait at least one hour after the infusion ends so clinicians can watch for any negative reactions.

How Effective Are Monoclonal Antibodies?

Scientists tested bamlanivimab and the combination of casirivimab and imdevimab in clinical trials. Both treatments reduced hospitalizations and emergency room visits for people with COVID-19 during the 28 days after receiving the monoclonal antibodies. The FDA and researchers are continuing to study monoclonal antibodies to see how well they treat and prevent COVID-19.

Sources

National Cancer Institute. Monoclonal antibody. Link

US Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Monoclonal Antibody for Treatment of COVID-19. November 9, 2020. Link

US Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Monoclonal Antibodies for Treatment of COVID-19. November 21, 2020. Link

US Food and Drug Administration. COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions. Link

US Food and Drug Administration. Fact sheet for healthcare providers emergency use authorization (EUA) of bamlanivimab. Link

US Food and Drug Administration. Fact sheet for healthcare providers emergency use authorization (EUA) of casirivimab and imdevimab. Link

About UPMC

A $21 billion health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of patient-centered, cost-effective, accountable care. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates more than 90,000 employees, 40 hospitals, 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and a 3.8 million-member Insurance Services Division, the largest medical insurer in western Pennsylvania. In the most recent fiscal year, UPMC contributed $1.4 billion in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution, and paid more than $500 million in federal, state, and local taxes. Working in close collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC shares its clinical, managerial, and technological skills worldwide through its innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, and through UPMC International. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside on its annual Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. For more information, go to UPMC.com.