The demand for monoclonal antibody therapies to treat COVID-19 cases has risen dramatically in America in recent weeks as cases soar. Former President Donald Trump received an antibody cocktail manufactured by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals when he was infected with the virus, but the treatment didn’t become popular until now.
Part of the reason is that the therapy is given intravenously, and a single dose costs $1,250, according to NPR. So, even if the drug is distributed free of charge, the infusion alone can cost $1,000, which may result in hefty copayments even for people who are insured.
According to Axios, some states with low vaccination rates and sparse COVID-19 mitigation measures to stem the transmission of the virus have made these treatments more accessible. Texas and Florida have both opened state-funded infusion sites.
Regeneron is shipping 125,000 doses per week, up from 25,000 doses in mid-July. Half the medication is being sent to Florida, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama, says Axios. Experts say that monoclonal antibody treatments may significantly reduce the risk of severe illness when used within a week of infection.
An analysis published in Open Forum Infectious Diseases found that the risk of hospitalization was 31% less in high-risk patients who received the infusions. This means that the antibodies can prevent one hospitalization in eight patients.
More than a dozen state-run centers have opened in Florida offering free monoclonal antibody treatments for people with COVID-19 considered to be at high risk for severe illness and death, says the Miami Herald. They are using Regeneron’s REGEN-COV therapy, designed to give their immune system an extra boost to combat the disease. The Herald notes that the treatments, like the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, are under emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration.
Meanwhile, a former healthcare executive turned entrepreneur, Derrick Miles of McKinney, Texas, saw a demand for monoclonal antibody treatment in the convenience of home and founded CourMed. His company sends a nurse to the patient’s home with the monoclonal antibody medication. It takes about an hour to deliver the infusion, according to a CBS affiliate in Dallas-Ft. Worth.
“We have the hard clinical data now to say that we can reduce hospitalizations between 70% and 87%,” said Dr. Robert Gottlieb, of Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas.
The company offers same day treatment for cash customers, but it may be a couple of days for those who need to get insurance clearance. The cost is $600. Since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s COVID-19 diagnosis and monoclonal antibody treatment, Miles says his phone has been ringing off the hook.
Monoclonal antibodies are important but are no substitute for vaccines, say healthcare experts.
“The vaccines serve as the best and first line of defense. The vaccines are the way to keep from getting infected in the first place and a more effective way of, if infections do happen, being far less likely to land in a hospital,” Daniel Roth, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Trinity Health system told Axios. “Monoclonal antibodies should serve as a second line of defense.”
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