Virus Outbreak Antibody Drug

In this undated image from video provided by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals on Friday, Oct. 2, scientists work with a bioreactor at a company facility in New York state, for efforts on an experimental coronavirus antibody drug.

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Two of three major hospitals in eastern Idaho are offering a new treatment meant to prevent severe complications from COVID-19.

That’s on par with most Idaho hospitals, which are also offering the monoclonal antibody bamlanivimab that received emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration two weeks ago, according to the state’s leading virus expert.

“If you do test positive (for coronavirus), go to your health care provider and ask about monoclonal antibody treatments,” state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said during a virtual town hall on Tuesday, according to the Idaho Press.

Access to the monoclonal antibody, similar to a treatment outgoing President Donald Trump used when he contracted COVID-19 over a month ago, is limited. The drug from Eli Lilly and Company is one of few drugs for which early data has shown safe potential reduction of the harsh effects the virus can cause.

Idaho Falls Community Hospital has been providing the drug as an outpatient treatment to patients since Nov. 13.

“This new drug marks the first time since the pandemic started that our community has had an outpatient treatment available,” administrator Casey Jackman said in a news release last week. “This is a step in the right direction, and along with the help of the community, we hope it will reduce hospitalizations related to COVID-19.”

The FDA says limited data suggests bamlanivimab can prevent hospitalizations in mild to moderate COVID-19 cases in patients 12 years old and older who are “high risk” for severe COVID-19 complications. The drug is not approved for use in patients who are on oxygen.

Dr. Richard Nathan, an independent Idaho Falls infectious disease doctor who works at Community Hospital, said 30 patients have received bamlanivimab in the hospital so far. Patients must apply before they can receive the treatment.

“It’s a lot easier for (people) 65 and older” to qualify, Nathan said. “If you’re under 65, you have to have some sort of major medical problems.”

By next week, Nathan said he hopes Community Hospital will receive doses of the similar antibody treatment from Regeneron Pharmaceutical Inc., which received FDA granted emergency approval Nov. 21.

Initial doses are limited nationwide, the Associated Press reported, and “early results suggest the drug may reduce” hospitalizations for patients at high risk for COVID-19 complications. Trump received that drug cocktail and other treatments during his hospital stay.

Nathan said his private practice, Snake River Research, is preparing to begin a Phase 3 trial of bamlanivimab with Eli Lilly and Company that would test the drug’s efficacy in people who are at low-risk for severe complications. He said he expects that to begin as early as next week.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are at a high in eastern Idaho. Hospitals were treating 70 total COVID-19 patients on Tuesday night, according to Eastern Idaho Public Health; 62 of those patients were eastern Idahoans. Last Thursday, nearby hospitals were only treating 62 COVID-19 patients.

In Rexburg, Madison Memorial Hospital will be reserving the treatment, known as balmanivimab, to only high-risk COVID-19 patients, the Rexburg Standard Journal reported.

“We will probably not be using it on a healthy 35-year-old patient with no health problems that tests positive for COVID-19,” pharmacy director Dorsie Sullenger told the newspaper.

The virus’s spread continues to worsen in eastern Idaho, even as testing has dropped by half. On Tuesday night, the region had added 236.6 cases each day over the past week, on average, according to the Post Register’s tracking of public health district data. That’s a record high, up notably from the 208 daily case average from last Tuesday.

The health district reported two more deaths Tuesday, and two more deaths Wednesday. In total, over 14,400 eastern Idahoans have contracted the coronavirus since March; more than 520 have been hospitalized; and at least 96 have died.

Half of the eight-county Eastern Idaho Public Health District is at the critical-risk level for coronavirus spread. Seven counties in the region are under rarely-enforced mask mandates. Idaho Falls City Council on Tuesday signaled it would consider enforcing such mandates.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.