KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s a drug that has been shown to keep people who have COVID-19 from getting even sicker and keeping some patients out of already crowded hospitals.
Now, Truman Medical Center/University Health has confirmed that's it among the first health care providers in the Kansas City area to administer bamlanivimab.
“That person did well and didn’t have any side effects,” Truman Medical Center Executive Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Mark Steele said.
Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures bamlanivimab, received emergency use authorization Nov. 9 from the Food and Drug Administration.
Steele described the treatment as a one-time, hour-long intravenous drip filled with a dose of the antibody. It prevents the virus from attaching and entering cells, theoretically reducing the replication of the virus.
“The early studies were at least suggestive enough of improving outcomes for patients,” Steele said Steele.
That’s why the FDA approved the treatment for emergency use, but bamlanivimab is only for high-risk patients experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. It shouldn't be taken for longer than 10 days.
“We certainly hope that this will become a breakthrough," Steel said. "There are ongoing studies with this, but the early studies suggest that this can reduce the level of symptoms that one has and also reduce hospitalization and emergency department visits."
Steele is hopeful the treatment will continue to produce promising results, but it's currently in very short supply.
Only 300,000 doses of the bamlanivimab are available nationwide.
"We are going to need a lot more of it," Steele said, "and it’s unclear how much is going to be available and how quickly it’s going to be available.”
According to Steele, hospitals in Missouri received 2,440 doses, including 34 at Truman Medical Center.
“Thirty-four doses won’t go very far," he said. "But assuming that it pans out that this truly does reduce symptomatology and hospitalizations and emergency department visits, that’s a big deal. ... Ideally, we will be able to get some information that even suggests it reduces mortality, but we don’t have that data now."
The University of Kansas Hospital received 60 doses and administered its first dose Wednesday to a patient, a hospital spokesperson told 41 Action News. The hospital is awaiting a second, smaller shipment and expects to continue treating patients with bamlanivimab next week.
The drug could be helpful as the race to mass produce vaccines for COVID-19 continues.
But as cases across the Kansas City area continue to spike, along with much of the U.S., Steele said the most important message is one people have already heard for months — wear a mask, maintain social distancing and avoid large gatherings, especially during the holidays, and wash your hands.
"People probably get kind of tired of hearing it, but these are the things that really work," he said. "These are the main weapons right now. The virus doesn’t care about if you have a certain political persuasion. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
Steele said patients who might be eligible for bamlanivimab are those who are at high risk of getting COVID-19 and potentially becoming hospitalized because of the virus. Those groups include people 65 years old and older, people who are overweight with a body-mass index of 35 or greater and people with underlying medical conditions, including diabetes or immune-compromising diseases.
Eli Lilly hopes to have 1 million doses of bamlanivimab manufactured by the end of 2020 with the hope to make the treatment available worldwide early next year as supply rapidly increases in early 2021.
“The FDA’s emergency authorization of bamlanivimab provides health care professionals on the frontline of this pandemic with another potential tool in treating COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “We will continue to evaluate new data on the safety and efficacy of bamlanivimab as they become available.”
The U.S. government purchased 300,000 doses of bamlanivimab and committed to make it free for U.S. citizens, although facilities may charge a fee for administering the treatment.