To date, more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients have received monoclonal antibodies at UPMC, and data indicate the treatment cut their risk of hospitalization and death by 70% compared to patients who were eligible for the treatment but did not receive it for various reasons.
The findings are currently available on the preprint medical server medRxiv, and the research team will pursue peer-reviewed publication soon.
“Monoclonal antibodies are copies of an antibody that seek out the COVID-19 virus in your body and block it from infecting your cells and replicating,” said co-author Dr. Erin McCreary, a UPMC infectious diseases pharmacist and clinical assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh Division of Infectious Diseases. “Essentially, we’re giving your immune system a leg up on the virus before it can take hold and wreak havoc.”
The three monoclonal antibody treatments currently authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are given via a one-time IV infusion. They are used for patients at high risk of severe complications from COVID-19, including those age 65 and older, or younger people with risk factors like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure or lung or kidney disease.
UPMC estimates approximately a third of its COVID-19 patients would qualify to receive monoclonal antibodies. For the therapy to work, it must be given within 10 days of a positive test result or initial symptoms, and patients do not need to be extremely ill to see the benefits.
“Too many times we’ve seen people with what they thought was mild COVID-19 for the first week quickly take a turn for the worse and end up in our ICUs. Don’t let that be you or a loved one,” said Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC’s chief medical officer and chair of emergency medicine. “If you get COVID-19, ask for monoclonal antibodies. It just might save your life.”
According to Yealy, UPMC is one of the only providers in the state offering monoclonal antibodies after investing in the infrastructure, staff and processes necessary to administer them in a coordinated and equitable fashion.
“People may be nervous about getting this treatment. Like all medications, there is a risk, but the rate of reactions has been very low in our patients,” McCreary said. “As a pharmacist, I would advise most patients to get it if they qualify. The risk of COVID-19 complications is far higher and much, much worse than the risk of a reaction to the medication.”
The monoclonal antibody medication is free, and all other fees are waived for UPMC Health Plan members. UPMC offers the infusion at 16 locations across Pennsylvania and in New York. For patients who are home-bound or do not have transportation, UPMC can do home infusions.
Visit upmc.com/antibodytreatment or call 866-804-5251 for additional information about monoclonal antibodies.