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UnityPoint Health to offer new treatment for COVID-19

-Courtesy of Eli Lilly via AP
This photo provided by Eli Lilly shows the drug Bamlanivimab. On Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration cleared emergency use of Bamlanivimab, the first antibody drug to help the immune system fight COVID-19. The drug is for people 12 and older with mild or moderate COVID-19 not requiring hospitalization. (Courtesy of Eli Lilly via AP)

A new type of medicine designed to prevent high-risk patients with COVID-19 from developing a severe disease is now being administered at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center.

The Fort Dodge hospital announced on Friday that it has opened an infusion area to provide the treatment. The drug is called Bamlanivimab. It is also referred to as monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 positive patients. Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic antibodies that mimic the body’s natural antibodies, according to information provided by the hospital. The medicine is administered through IV infusion.

“Our team has been working diligently to designate an area and set processes in place to provide this cutting edge COVID treatment for our community,” said Leah Glasgo, CEO and president of UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge.

On Nov. 9, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the investigational monoclonal antibody therapy bamlanivimab for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adult and pediatric patients.

UnityPoint Health began administration of the drug on Friday.

The hospital was provided a limited supply of monoclonal antibodies by the federal government, according to Scott Leigh, UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge director of pharmacy.

He estimated less than 30 doses are available through the first week of treatments. Future supply of the drug will be determined by the Iowa Department of Public Health. The department will use measures like positivity rate to determine the need for communities, according to Leigh.

Webster County has seen over 1,000 new positive cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks. The county’s positivity rate remains one of the highest in the state at 25.9%. according to the Iowa’s coronavirus website. Since the pandemic began, 27 people in the county have died from the virus.

“While we are very excited to be able to now offer this new treatment, we are still experiencing a very high number of COVID hospitalizations,” Glasgo said. “We need your help to bend the curve. Wear a mask, stay home if you are sick, wash your hands and social distance.”

Leigh said although the drug is new, the method of treatment is something that has been used for decades.

“It’s a monoclonal antibody, which those are meant to mimic antibodies that your body might produce, but these are engineered in a lab,” Leigh said. “They are meant to block the attachment, in this case viruses, to human cells. It cuts down on the viral load to patients.

“We have used therapies similar to this for decades. We use them today in our infusion center to treat cancer, lupus, all sorts of illnesses. This is not a new technology, but it is a new application for this type of treatment.”

Eli Lilly and Company, headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, is the maker of the drug.

Leigh said the medicine is still undergoing clinical trials, but so far those trials have shown “to significantly reduce viral load in patients and helps prevent them from progressing to a worse stage of illness.”

The treatment consists of a one-hour infusion.

“This is a single infusion,” Leigh said. “A one-time infusion. By getting the infusion, patients hopefully wouldn’t progress to a severity of illness that would require them to be hospitalized.”

The treatment must be given within the first 10 days of symptom onset, according to Leigh.

“That’s part of this EAU,” Leigh said. “It’s been determined that we need to use the drug in that time-frame. Outside of that 10 days from symptom onset, our window starts to close.”

Only certain COVID-positive patients will qualify for the treatment.

“This isn’t going to be just for everybody,” Leigh said.”Because there is a limited number of doses available. Under the EUA (emergency use authorization), they have defined just patients that are at extra high-risk for disease progression.

“We know that people who are older or have underlying diseases or illnesses are more prone to a worse condition with COVID — so that’s really who they are targeting. It’s a fairly extensive list of criteria.”

Leigh said patients who are on supplemental oxygen or are so sick that they need to be hospitalized won’t qualify for use of the drug.

“One thing it (studies) hasn’t shown to do is help patients after they have been hospitalized,” Leigh said. “Those arms of the study haven’t shown as much benefit to the drug.”

The side effects from the drug aren’t fully known, but Leigh said to this point in the trials, side effects have been limited.

“There have been some effects but have generally been mild,” he said. “We don’t know all of the potential side effects, but in the hundreds of patients (in the clinical trials), the number of serious events has been extremely low. And we just started today with our first patient and I understand that it was pretty uneventful.”

Leigh said patients should consult their providers to see if they meet the high-risk criteria to receive an infusion.

If an individual is tested outside of a UnityPoint Health facility, documentation of a positive result is required by the EUA for use of monoclonal antibodies.

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