UPMC Expands Use of Antibody Treatments for Vulnerable Patients Exposed to COVID-19
Even though antibody therapies are effective after a patient is exposed to the virus, doctors maintain getting vaccinated, masking up and social distancing are the most effective tools to ending the pandemic.
Amid growing concerns about the Delta variant of the coronavirus and fears of a potential fourth wave, UPMC announced Tuesday that it will soon offer a type of monoclonal antibody treatment — which stimulates the immune system to attack certain cells — to high-risk patients who have been exposed to COVID-19.
According to Dr. Erin McCreary, an infectious diseases pharmacist at UPMC, the company will offer two types of therapies — casirivimab-imdevimab and sotrovimab.
“I’m very pleased to share that the FDA recently expanded the emergency use authorization for casirivimab-imdevimab to include patients who have been exposed to COVID-19 and have a high risk of getting severe disease,” McCreary said at the press conference. “UPMC will soon offer this treatment as something called post-exposure prophylaxis. We will offer this in outpatient and inpatient settings, our senior care communities and urgent cares for all eligible patients.”
According to UPMC, monoclonal antibodies work a lot like the body’s own antibodies, but are selected specifically for their strong ability to resist the virus. In 2020, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization to permit the use of these antibodies as an effective treatment against COVID-19.
Once the monoclonal antibodies enter the body, they look for and attach to the “spike protein” that sticks out of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. From there, they can block the virus’ ability to enter cells, thus slowing down infection.
In order to receive the monoclonal antibody therapies, patients must have been exposed to COVID-19 and must be unvaccinated, not fully vaccinated or less than two weeks removed from their second vaccine dose. Further, patients must have a condition that puts them at high-risk of developing severe symptoms of the virus. This could be age — anyone older than 65 is at increased risk — a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25 or a chronic condition such as heart disease or diabetes, among others.
Patients with compromised immune systems, such as those who have recently received organ transplants, also qualify for the treatment, along with patients who are current or former smokers or have a history of substance abuse.
Monoclonal antibody therapy is an effective option for anyone 12 or older who meets those criteria, and must be administered within 10 days of the onset of symptoms in order for the patient to receive its full benefit.
“Our early published data show that our hospitalizations and deaths in our patients were decreased by 60% in patients that received antibody therapy, and even better if given even earlier,” McCreary said.
She added the best way to protect oneself against COVID-19 and the Delta variant still is to get vaccinated — and to abide by masking and social-distancing recommendations.
“I just want to plug that post-exposure is wonderful and I’m glad we have that as an option, but pre-exposure is even better by getting vaccinated,” McCreary said.
It was a sentiment echoed by Dr. Graham Snyder, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology at UPMC.
“We have to keep masking and distancing, because masking and distancing prevents transmission of the virus,” he said. “The good news is we have effective therapies, but we don’t want to have to rely on those effective therapies. We want to prevent transmission from even happening.”