First patients receive experimental antibody treatment for COVID-19 at Steamboat hospital
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Jay Fischer, a resident at Casey’s Pond, was the first person at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center to receive a new antibody treatment aimed at preventing COVID-19 patients from becoming severe cases requiring hospitalization.
“I feel pretty good right now,” Fischer said Friday after receiving the one-time intravenous infusion that morning.
The monoclonal antibody treatment bamlanivimab received emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 9 and is still considered experimental.
Fischer said being the first person to get it locally gives him the chance to be part of data collection and research that can help other people and a chance to pay back all the care he’s received from both the hospital staff and team at Casey’s Pond.
Fischer said he tested positive for COVID-19 about a week prior to receiving the treatment.
“It felt like I got a regular cold,” he said, but his doctors were concerned it could get much worse because of his underlying conditions.
Fischer said his doctor pushed hard to get him the treatment — of which the entire UCHealth system had received 650 doses of the drug for use at four of its hospitals, including in Steamboat.
Allocations were made to states based on population and COVID-19 cases.
A second Steamboat patient also received the treatment on Friday.
“We pushed mighty hard to get it here,” said UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center Director of Pharmacy Wes Hunter.
“UCHealth is great about including us,” he said, “but when you are a rural hospital, sometimes if you are not vocal, then you are not thought of as much — it’s just us saying, ‘Hey — we are here, and we want to be part of this.’ It’s a reminder as they are setting up allocations.”
On pronouncing the drug, Hunter said the company will come up with a trade name.
“This antibody treatment is still being studied, and there’s a lot that remains unknown about its effectiveness,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director for infection prevention at UCHealth, in a news release. But as Colorado faces record hospitalization rates, “If we can lessen the severity of illness and keep people out of the hospital, those are beds we can use for other patients with more acute needs.”
Fischer gives his doctor much credit in being his advocate to get the fast approval. Hunter said it must be given within 10 days of symptoms appearing — after that patients are ineligible.
Given the limited supply, the parameters of the high-demand medication are very specific. At this time, each patient requires approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
If a patient meets the parameters and is identified by their doctors as a candidate, their name then goes into a randomized request system, Hunter said.
It has shown to be most effective in people who are sick with COVID-19 and have underlying conditions, but are not yet sick enough to be hospitalized and who don’t need oxygen therapy. It also is approved for pediatric patients older than 12.
“Given that there are many, many people with COVID-19 who would qualify for this medication, I wish it could be offered to everyone,” Barron said.
The drug is only authorized for people in that 10-day post-symptom — sick but not too sick — window, and its label warns it could actually worsen outcomes in hospitalized patients who need oxygen or ventilation.
Eli Lilly makes bamlanivimab, and the company Regeneron has a very similar drug cocktail — Casirivimab and Imdevimab — that was granted emergency use authorization Nov. 21. Regeneron’s version of the monoclonal antibodies made headlines when it was administered in October to President Donald Trump through a compassionate use program.
Hunter said the two versions will likely soon be used interchangeably, as supplies of both become more available.
It essentially works the same as convalescent plasma therapy, Hunter said, which uses blood from people who have recovered from the illness by using their antibodies to help people fight the virus. However bamlanivimab is made synthetically in a lab.
“Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses,” according to the FDA. “Bamlanivimab is a monoclonal antibody that is specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells.”
While the drugs are not a cure, as claimed by Trump, Hunter said, “It’s another tool we have, and one that hopefully keeps people out of the hospital. What studies are showing is an increase in the chance of keeping the disease at a mild to moderate stage and keeping it from progressing to severe COVID.”
Hunter also noted it’s “certainly not the end all, be all of therapeutics we’d like to see with this disease, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
At this time, Hunter said between the federal government and insurance companies, patients and hospitals are not having trouble getting the bulk of the cost of treatment covered.
As of Friday, there were just the two patients to receive bamlanivimab at the Steamboat medical center, but Hunter was hopeful to see more receive it soon.
He said they were closely monitoring Fischer.
“If the body rejects it, you usually see that within 15 minutes,” he said. “There have been very few adverse events noted with the medication — we don’t expect to have any problems.”
For Fischer, the hardest part of the past 10 months has been the isolation.
But for his experience of contracting COVID-19, he could not say enough good things about the staff at Casey’s Pond. He has no idea how he contracted it, Fischer said, but they caught it quickly with both a rapid and PCR test, while isolating him from everyone else.
“They do a fantastic job at keeping everyone as safe as possible,” he said.
And Fischer has equally glowing things to say about his experience as the first bamlanivimab patient at the hospital. From getting him approved to the infusion process that lasted about an hour and a half, “They did a fantastic job — I can’t give enough kudos.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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