Why monoclonal antibodies are the delta surge's unsung hero

As COVID-19 hospitalizations surge among unvaccinated Americans, monoclonal antibodies are becoming an integral part of hospitals' efforts to save their lives, Bloomberg reported Aug. 16.

Monoclonal antibodies are proteins designed to fight disease by binding to a virus, preventing it from entering healthy cells and replicating. 

Medical experts and public health officials emphasize that such treatments are by no means a substitute for vaccination. COVID-19 antibodies are administered to patients who contracted the disease and at high risk for severe progression due to factors such as age and weight.

Amid recent surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the administration of monoclonal antibodies to treat the disease has become more common. Federal and state officials have been promoting their use, especially in hard-hit areas.

Regeneron said its COVID-19 antibody cocktail wasn't experiencing much demand earlier in the pandemic, but now the demand has risen to more than 120,000 doses a week. 

The treatment, a cocktail of casirivimab and imdevimab, was granted FDA emergency use authorization in November. The FDA revised its emergency use authorization July 30, allowing the treatment to be used as a post-exposure prophylaxis for COVID-19 in individuals who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19.

Hospitals now also have the option to administer the treatment via shots, which is a much quicker process than the usual intravenous infusion.

The U.S. government pays Regeneron $2,100 a dose for its COVID-19 antibody cocktail, White House adviser Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, told Bloomberg. All COVID-19 antibody treatments are free to patients.

Roche subsidiary Genentech is also reporting skyrocketing demand for one of its antibodies, Actemra, which is usually used to treat rheumatoid arthritis but has been authorized by the FDA to treat COVID-19 patients. Genentech said there is a shortage of the drug that will last "at least the next several weeks."

U.S. COVID-19 patients have received more than 600,000 doses of monoclonal antibodies overall, according to Dr. Nunez-Smith.


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