For most of this year, the drugs President Donald Trump credited for his rapid recovery from COVID-19 have gone unused on government shelves.
In a typical week in June, monoclonal antibodies were only given to 10 people throughout the greater Houston area.
Now, however, demand is skyrocketing.
This week, approximately 1,200 patients in the Houston area will receive REGN-COV, a monoclonal antibody made by pharmaceutical company Regeneron of Tarrytown, New York.
“We have seen an exponential increase in demand,” said Dr. Howard Huang, who led the effort on monoclonal antibodies at the Methodist Hospital in Houston.
Regeneron sent less than 25,000 doses per week nationwide as of mid-July. Today, the Department of Health and Human Services ships about 168,000 doses per week, with 78% of orders going to areas of the country with low immunization rates.
And demand for sotrovimab, another monoclonal antibody cleared for use against COVID-19, has increased by almost 300% over the past month.
The surge, Huang said, likely comes from the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, increased public awareness of the drugs, and doctors’ successful experiences with them earlier in the pandemic.
“The biggest change is the delta variant and the surge in infection rates that are happening across the country,” said Alexandra Bowie, spokesperson for Regeneron.
Still, more people could benefit, Presidential Advisor Dr Anthony Fauci said at a White House press conference on Tuesday.
He described monoclonal antibodies as “a very underused intervention” in the fight against COVID-19 and said he wanted people “to realize the benefit of this very effective way of treating infection early.
According to the HHS, less than half of the doses paid for by the federal government have been used so far.
Monoclonal antibodies, which are produced by cloning immune cells that have been shown to be effective against COVID-19, can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by at least 70%, he said.
But they need to be given early in the illness – ideally within three to four days of diagnosis or the first symptoms, Huang said.
This is when the virus rapidly multiplies in the body and that by sending an arsenal of fighters against it can make the biggest difference.
Antibodies should be given people 12 years of age and over at high risk of serious infection with COVID-19. This includes those who are pregnant, over the age of 65, whose immune system is weakened due to illness or medication, who suffer from conditions such as cerebral palsy, sickle cell disease, cardiovascular disease or illness chronic kidney or lung disease, or who have had a tracheostomy or gastrostomy. .
REGN-COV has also been cleared for use in people who have been exposed to COVID-19, although they have not yet tested positive for the coronavirus as an at-risk person whose spouse is infected, or the resident from a nursing home or prison where there has been an outbreak.
Despite the increase in the use of monoclonal drugs, “we are still only reaching about 20% of people who could benefit from them,” said Dr. Daniel Griffin, head of the infectious disease division for ProHEALTH, a supplier of New York-based healthcare. . “Monoclonal drugs never seemed to get the press their effectiveness should warrant.”
Reports are pouring in now.
Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, newly diagnosed with COVID-19 despite being vaccinated, announced last week that he had received the monoclonal antibodies from Regeneron.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis touted the treatment as he open treatment sites across the state.
And one photo of a patient from Florida lying on the floor of a library while waiting for the drug to go viral last week.
Last fall Trump started touting monoclonal antibodies as miracle drugs. Not yet approved for the general public, he promised to make them available to any American who needed them.
The government has since issued two purchase agreements for Regeneron’s drug, totaling around 1.5 million doses.
In the second deal, which includes the vast majority of doses, the government agreed to pay $ 2,100 per dose, and patients would receive the drug free of charge. Some private insurance companies will add fees for the delivery of the drug.
The distribution of a monoclonal antibody made by Lilly has been took a break earlier this summer after it was found not to be effective against certain variants of the coronavirus.
Sotrovimab, produced jointly by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology, was not approved until the end of May, so it was not used as frequently as the other two. It now has contracts with Indian health services and some military health systems as well as hospitals and health care centers in 26 states.
The drug, which also costs $ 2,100 a dose, is also expected to be free for the patient due to a combination of upfront government payments, reimbursements and the co-payment program, said Lyndsay Meyer, spokesperson for the company.
The two monoclonal antibodies work similarly, but the one from Regeneron is a combination of two antibodies designed to treat a wider range of variants.
GSK-Vir is a unique antibody derived from a patient who recovered from SARS-VOC, the coronavirus that ravaged Asia and parts of Canada in 2003. Research has shown that sotrovimab reduces the risk of death or hospitalization by 79% and that its efficiency resisted variants like delta.
Contact Karen Weintraub at [email protected]
Patient health and safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial contributions.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Demand for monoclonal antibody treatment skyrockets as COVID cases rise