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Sacred Heart offers new COVID-19 therapy

Special to the Star

Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf is now utilizing a new outpatient treatment for COVID-19 using a monoclonal antibody called Bamlanivimab, or “Bam.”

Bamlanivimab is an investigational medicine used to treat non-hospitalized adults and adolescents with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, and who are at high risk for developing severe symptoms. 

A vial of bamlanivimab

The neutralizing antibody has to be given by intravenous infusion one time into patients in a narrow window of time -- within 10 days of when they start showing symptoms, but before they’re sick enough to be hospitalized. In addition, the drug should be given within three days of a positive test for COVID-19.

The Ascension Sacred Heart hospital in Port St. Joe has provided the treatment to about 30 patients. The infusion process takes about two hours.

"We have been prescribing Bam therapy for high-risk COVID positive patients for several weeks," said Dr. Rachel Bixler, a family medicine physician in Port St. Joe. "There are many active studies to see just how effective it is, but we feel very blessed to be able to offer it to our community.

“The window of opportunity to use this treatment is very small. We have to be able to test the high-risk patient, determine their need for the treatment and administer the therapy before the window has closed,” she said. “This requires quick and efficient communication from all our team members both in the clinic and hospital.”

The antibody treatment manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company has been approved for emergency use. So far, the research shows that for certain people, a monoclonal antibody may help limit the amount of virus in people with COVID-19 if they take the drug before they become seriously ill. This may help their symptoms improve sooner — and they may be less likely to need to go to the hospital. 

According to Dr. Peter Jennings, chief medical officer at Ascension Sacred Heart, antibody therapy also is being used at Ascension Sacred Heart's hospitals in Pensacola and Panama City, and soon at the system's hospital in Miramar Beach.

"Timing is really important for this therapy," said Jennings. "It is not approved for use in patients who are already so sick they need hospital care. Rather, this is a treatment option for some high-risk patients that may keep them out of the hospital.”

To qualify for the monoclonal antibody, a patient must have mild to moderate symptoms and have at least one of the following risk factors:

  • obesity
  • chronic kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • immunosuppressive disease
  • age 65 years or older
  • age 55 years or older AND have cardiovascular disease, or hypertension or chronic pulmonary disease (COPD) or other chronic respiratory disease.

In a Jan. 26 announcement, Eli Lilly said that a two-drug antibody cocktail that included Bam has been shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths for high-risk patients with COVID-19, by as much as 70 percent. The finding was based on a new study of a combination of Bam and etesevimab.

“These data further support our belief that bamlanivimab and etesevimab together have the potential to be an important treatment that significantly reduces hospitalizations and death in high-risk COVID-19 patients.” Eli Lilly said in a statement.

For more information about Bam antibody therapy, contact your healthcare provider.