Medical researchers at the University of California–Irvine (UCI) say their ongoing success with administering antibodies to treat COVID-19 could slow hospitalizations nationwide.
The UCI Health researchers say they continue to see positive results in their clinical method for infusing patients with monoclonal antibodies—laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses—for the second consecutive week.
Dr. Alpesh N. Amin, UCI’s chairman of the department of medicine and the project’s lead investigator, told The Epoch Times on Feb. 16 that the project is “a way of helping not only our patient population but also our community at large” by attempting to verify “whether monoclonal antibodies could be given to patients to help prevent progression of their illness that would lead to hospitalizations or [emergency room] visits.”
By providing another option for COVID-19 treatment, researchers are hoping it will block the disease from progressing to a hospital-room visit. According to Amin, published preliminary data shows that monoclonal antibodies would reduce both emergency room visits and hospitalizations by up to 70 percent.
Amin said three things need to happen when there’s a surge in cases: ensuring the adequate availability of hospital beds and oxygen; improving efficiency for moving patients through the system without compromising the level of care, in order to open more beds; and developing a prophylactic strategy using monoclonal antibodies.
On Feb. 9, UCI announced its data would be coupled with the federal government’s response to COVID-19 to provide guidance to hospitals across the country.
Relieving the Health Care Burden
In Irvine, over 180 patients have received the treatment so far. Amin said they’re infusing up to 100 patients per week—an average of 24 to 36 per day—with an availability of six chairs at a time.
The university set up a makeshift hub in the parking lot adjacent to its medical center, where patients can drive up to receive valet service and register for the treatment.
Patients who opt to undergo the process are first met by a nurse practitioner, who marks them with an “access point”—a point on the body where an infusion needle will be inserted. A “sterile, informed consent process” then takes place with each patient, according to Amin, before the patients are led to a comfortable chair to receive the treatment.
An IV is inserted into the patient for an hour during the infusion. “Then the IV lines and others are removed, and the patient is monitored for a little while just to make sure that they have no allergic reaction or anything else. And then we help them back out to the valet stand, where they can pick up their car and head home,” Amin said.
The total procedure takes about two hours, he said. Eligible patients must be COVID-positive for less than seven days, above the age of 18, and have not been hospitalized for COVID-19.
UCI is getting bamlanivimab, the antibody used in the procedure, from pharmacies throughout Orange County, according to Amin. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for the antibody in November for the treatment of COVID-19.
John Murray, the public information officer for the UCI Medical Center, told The Epoch Times that the team is currently receiving bamlanivimab from AmerisourceBergen, the wholesale distributor coordinating distribution to states with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company. In December, a Lilly press release noted that the U.S. government had already purchased 950,000 doses.
According to Murray, the UCI Health pharmacy was previously receiving bamlanivimab from the county health department. The Orange County Health Care Agency told The Epoch Times it’s not partnered with UCI for the treatment.
“So far, it looks like we’ve had really good outcomes, and we believe that we’re doing good. Again, there’s no one strategy—it’s all these strategies that have to occur in parallel, and that’s what I’ve implemented here to keep us at the top of our game, to help our patients and our community,” said Amin.
Dr. Daniel Chow, the project’s co-principal investigator, brought technological expertise to the team. He told The Epoch Times that researchers wanted to know whether they could use artificial intelligence or advanced analytics to identify patients who would benefit most from the treatment—and those “at high risk for severe outcomes.”
Chow, co-director of UCI Medicine’s Center for Artificial Intelligence in Diagnostic Medicine, focuses on merging medicine with technology. In light of COVID-19, his efforts have shifted to streamlining processes based on patient data and connecting them to appropriate treatments.
He noted that current treatments for COVID-19 include “therapies for when you get admitted to the hospital, like remdesivir,” and “a vaccine that’s going to be preventative for the community.” But there are “still therapies that are needed for patients who are tested positive, but not admitted to the hospital.”
He said UCI Health is trying to develop effective therapies that can treat patients at multiple levels. “We want to be able to take care of patients in hospital. We want to be able to do preventative care. But we also want to be able to treat patients who are tested positive,” Chow said.
Amin said UCI Health will be sharing data collected from the research with the federal government, which will see if the treatment is applicable for reducing hospitalizations nationwide.