COVID-19: New study examines monoclonal antibodies

  • Antibodies fight infection, and the body produces them naturally, but it is possible to introduce antibodies into the body artificially.
  • A new study suggests that the monoclonal antibody bamlanivimab may effectively reduce the chance of hospitalization and death in people with a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
  • Use of bamlanivimab treatment was associated with a decrease in hospitalization and mortality, especially among adults over 65 years.

SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that has impacted people worldwide, causing drastic changes in daily life, illness, and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 32 million people in the United States have developed COVID-19.

In addition to respiratory symptoms, COVID-19 can cause serious complications, including cardiovascular complications, acute kidney injury, acute liver injury, acute respiratory failure, blood clots, and neurological complications.

As noted by the CDC, some individuals have a higher chance of becoming seriously ill after contracting SARS-CoV-2, meaning they may require hospitalization for treatment, use of a ventilator to help with breathing, or the illness may result in death.

Individuals with a higher chance of developing severe illness related to COVID-19 include older adults and those with other medical conditions, such as cancer, COPD, asthma, and diabetes.

Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.

The COVID-19 vaccine focuses on prevention, but researchers are also studying treatments for reducing symptoms and complications caused by COVID-19 infections. Treatment of COVID-19 using monoclonal antibodies may be an effective option for people at risk of severe illness.

Antibodies to treat COVID-19

The body produces antibodies to help it fight infections. Introducing monoclonal antibodies into the body to help block the virus has shown promise as a treatment for those with a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Based on the nature of the virus and how it replicates, these specific antibodies can neutralize the virus, decreasing the amount of the virus present in the body.

Medical News Today spoke with Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair for Molecular Microbiology & Immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD. He said:

“Antibody treatments have a long […] record of efficacy in infectious diseases but have not been used as much as they could have, as physicians have been more focused on antimicrobials and antivirals. This experience with antibody therapies against COVID-19 could help bring back wider use of antibodies for infectious diseases.”

The authors of the present study write that between November 2020 and February 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization for four types of monoclonal antibodies. Doctors can provide these monoclonal antibodies to individuals with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms up to 10 days after their symptoms began.

People at risk of developing serious complications and severe symptoms from infection with SARS-CoV-2 are more likely to benefit from monoclonal antibodies as a treatment option.

Effectiveness of bamlanivimab

A new observational study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reveals an antibody treatment that may help reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in those with COVID-19.

The results appear in Open Forum Infectious Diseases, a journal published by the Infectious Disease Society of America.

This study examined the use of bamlanivimab monoclonal antibody therapy and its effectiveness in reducing death and hospitalization in high-risk people with COVID-19. Before the results of this study, the FDA had not approved the use of bamlanivimab alone.

The authors explain: “On March 24th, 2021, the United States Department of Health and Human Services announced they would no longer supply sites with bamlanivimab alone due to concern about increased rates of resistant variants, and on April 16th, 2021, the EUA for bamlanivimab monotherapy was rescinded by the FDA.”

Dr. Casadevall told MNT in regards to this study that “the results with bamlanivimab monoclonal antibody treatment in patients with COVID-19 show reduced hospital admissions and mortality with early use, highlighting the potential of antibody-based therapies in fighting this disease.”

The study took place between December 2020 and March 2021. The researchers gave bamlanivimab to 232 people with a SARS-CoV-2 and compared them with a control group of 1,160 people with a SARS-CoV-2 infection who did not receive bamlanivimab. The scientists followed the participants for 28 days.

The study results showed decreased hospitalization and mortality among those who received bamlanivimab than those who did not. These effects were more significant in people over 65 years.

The study did have certain limitations. For instance, there were differences between the people who received the bamlanivimab treatment and those that did not.

Researchers further note that they may have missed some visits to non-UPMC facilities during data collection, and they did not measure viral loads. Finally, the severity, presence, and extent of COVID-19 symptoms may influence the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody treatment, and they could not reliably measure these factors.

When the researchers conducted this study, they only gave bamlanivimab. The researchers cannot comment on how bamlanivimab compares with other monoclonal antibody treatments and note that research about their effectiveness will need to continue.

However, the authors explain that “[a]s of April 16th, 2021, only combination monoclonal antibody therapy is now authorized for use in the United States.” This is related to fears of an increase in resistant variants of COVID-19. Experts think that combination monoclonal antibody therapy is more effective.

Nevertheless, the study’s findings suggest that using monoclonal antibodies as treatment may help improve clinical outcomes for people with COVID-19. As scientists continue to research and develop treatments, the outlook begins to look more favorable for those with COVID-19.

One of the lead authors of the study Dr. Ryan Bariola, associate professor in Pitt’s Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the UPMC Community Hospital Antimicrobial Stewardship Efforts (CHASE) Program, was highly enthusiastic about the study’s results. He told MNT:

“Our study provides real-world evidence for providers and patients that monoclonal antibodies can improve outcomes in people with mild to moderate COVID-19. For those with COVID-19 not ill enough yet to require hospitalization, monoclonal antibodies can prevent them from becoming more ill and requiring a visit to the emergency department or hospitalization.”

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