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Monoclonal Antibodies

What Are Monoclonal Antibodies?

Monoclonal antibodies are among the most promising treatments for mild to moderate COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Monoclonal antibodies are just like your body's antibodies but selected for their strong ability to resist the virus. They are produced like a medication and help your body fight illness. In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization to permit monoclonal antibodies as a treatment option for COVID-19.

What Are Antibodies?

Antibodies are proteins made by your body's immune system that fight off infections, including infections caused by viruses. Your body can remember how to make antibodies if you are exposed to the same germ again.

How Do Monoclonal Antibodies Treat COVID-19?

How does monoclonal antibody treatment work?

After entering your body, monoclonal antibodies look for and attach to the spike protein that sticks out of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

When monoclonal antibodies attach to the spike protein, they can block the virus's ability to enter cells — and slow down the infection.

In 2020, the FDA authorized several different monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19. One of these drugs is bamlanivimab, while the other is a combination of the drugs casirivimab and imdevimab.

How Effective Are Monoclonal Antibodies?

According to a study from the New England Journal of Medicine, early clinical data show that monoclonal antibodies can successfully cut COVID-19 hospitalization rates.Clinical trials for bamlanivimab and casirivimab/imdevimab have shown that these treatments can decrease hospitalizations and emergency department visits. They can also reduce the amount of virus found in an infected person's blood. Clinical trials of monoclonal antibodies are ongoing.

It isn't yet known if monoclonal antibodies protect against future COVID-19 infections.

Monoclonal Antibody Treatment at UPMC

Who is eligible for monoclonal antibody treatment?

Patients must meet specific guidelines to receive monoclonal antibodies as treatment for COVID-19.

  • Monoclonal antibodies are for people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at risk for severe disease.
  • Patients must be at least 12 years old and weigh more than 88 pounds.
  • UPMC received two monoclonal antibody infusion treatment products. Our infusion center locations can administer available monoclonal antibody treatments for patients with COVID-19 who meet our criteria.
  • Potential patients can find out if they qualify by speaking to their doctor. Patients and providers can also call 866-804-5251 for help.

People who have already developed severe COVID-19, including those who are hospitalized or are receiving oxygen therapy, are not currently eligible to receive monoclonal antibodies.

What to Expect During Monoclonal Antibody Treatment

Health care workers administer monoclonal antibodies with a one-time intravenous (IV) infusion. The IV infusion involves placing a needle in a vein and gradually sending the medicine through the IV and into the body.

The infusion takes about an hour. After the IV is removed, patients must wait at least one more hour so health care workers can watch for side effects or negative reactions.

What Are the Side Effects of Monoclonal Antibodies?

The most common reported side effects for bamlanivimab are:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Vomiting

The most common reported side effects for casirivimab/imdevimab are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Pneumonia

IV infusions can also cause brief pain, bleeding, skin bruising, soreness, swelling, and infection at the infusion site.

Can I Get a COVID-19 Vaccine If I Have Had Antibody Treatment?

People who have received a monoclonal antibody infusion for COVID-19 should not be vaccinated within 90 days of their infusion. These people are eligible when the monoclonal antibodies no longer affect the vaccine.

What Is the Cost of Monoclonal Antibody Treatment?

Check with your insurance provider for more information on the cost of monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19.