Ryan Levy, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at UPMC Passavant

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized or approved various COVID-19 treatments during the pandemic.

The authorized treatments include monoclonal antibodies, which scientists create to act like your body’s naturally occurring antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies target specific disease-causing pathogens. They prevent pathogens from entering your cells and help your immune system fight off disease.

In September 2021, UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reported the results of a study showing monoclonal antibodies significantly reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.

“The whole world is in a race to tame the virus that causes COVID-19,” says Derek Angus, MD, chief innovation officer, UPMC. “If we get COVID-19, monoclonal antibodies are currently our best bet to keep ourselves and our loved ones alive and out of the hospital.”

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How Do Monoclonal Antibodies Work?

Monoclonal antibodies work like your body’s natural antibodies. In fact, they’re a more potent version of your antibodies.

Researchers design monoclonal antibodies to target a specific substance. The monoclonal antibodies that treat COVID-19 target the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. They block the virus’ ability to enter your cells, slowing down the infection and helping your immune system fight it off.

The FDA has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) to the monoclonal antibody bebtelovimab to treat COVID-19.

Do Monoclonal Antibodies Work Against COVID-19?

Monoclonal antibodies have shown great effectiveness in reducing the risk of severe illness and death in COVID-19 patients.

In May 2021, a UPMC and University of Pittsburgh study reported monoclonal antibodies cut the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 by 60% when patients received the treatment within 10 days of feeling symptoms.

In September 2021, UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh released findings from another study, the OPTIMISE-C19 Trial. Data showed the monoclonal antibody treatments measured were effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

“If you get COVID-19, we want to prevent you from ever needing hospitalized care,” Dr. Angus says.

Do Monoclonal Antibodies Work Against Variants?

The OPTIMISE-C19 study now is measuring how well the currently authorized monoclonal antibody treatments work against variants of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The FDA paused distribution of some previously authorized monoclonal antibody treatments because they showed less effectiveness against variants like Omicron (B.1.1.529) — the current dominant variant in the U.S.

The FDA reported bebtelovimab showed effectiveness in reducing the risk of severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19.

“As new treatments are authorized, we can immediately begin offering them to patients and collect randomized data to inform future treatment protocols,” says David Huang, MD, an intensivist at UPMC and principal investigator in the OPTIMISE-C19 trial. “We can then compare outcomes as the virus evolves and new variants emerge.”

More data is needed to determine how well the monoclonal antibodies protect against variants.

Can I Get Monoclonal Antibodies?

To receive monoclonal antibodies, you must have mild or moderate COVID-19 and be at high risk of progressing to more severe COVID-19. You also must receive the treatment within seven days of showing symptoms of COVID-19.

To find out if you are a candidate for monoclonal antibodies, call 866-804-5251 or visit UPMC.com/AntibodyTreatment.

While monoclonal antibodies can treat COVID-19, the best way to prevent COVID-19 is by getting vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, especially in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment with UPMC, visit our COVID-19 vaccine page.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.