Coronavirus: What is monoclonal antibody treatment and who should get it?

The Biden administration last week called on health care providers once more to use monoclonal antibody treatments on those at high risk of suffering severe illness from the COVID-19 virus.

The drug, which boosts the body’s disease defense system to help fight the infection, has been shown to be effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death.

The New York Times points out that “there is also evidence that they may be able to prevent the disease entirely in certain people exposed to the virus.”

“These are important tools,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, a virus expert at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who has worked with Regeneron on a study that showed that the company’s antibody treatment may be able to prevent COVID-19 when given to people living with someone infected with the coronavirus. “They have shown substantial therapeutic effects,” Barouch told The Times.

On July 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that the drugs, referred to as mAbs, could be used for someone who has been, or is, at risk of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus.

What is a monoclonal antibody, how does it work, and how can you get it? Here’s what we know now:

What is a monoclonal antibody?

A monoclonal antibody is a lab-produced protein that mimics the immune system’s way of fighting off viruses and disease.

The body makes antibodies to fight infection. Those antibodies circulate throughout the body until they find the infection — called the antigen — then attack and destroy it. Once attached, the antibody can force other parts of the immune system to destroy the cells containing the antigen.

Antibodies can be designed to seek out and attack certain antigens. That means that scientists can design an antibody that looks for COVID-19 infection and attacks it.

Which monoclonal antibodies are available in the U.S.?

There are two monoclonal antibodies, or mAbs, available in the U.S. today used to fight off a COVID-19 infection.

A treatment made by Regeneron called casirivimab and imdevimab, and another made by GlaxoSmithKline called sotrovimab, have gained emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

No mAbs for COVID-19 have yet received full FDA approval.

How are they administered?

Monoclonal antibodies are meant to be given by infusion — in other words, administered intravenously. The drugs do not come in pill form. If, for some reason, a person does not have time to sit for an infusion, the drugs can be injected.

The infusion process can take up to about 20 minutes.

Can mAbs prevent COVID-19?

Regeneron’s mAbs are authorized to be used as a preventive treatment.

They can be given to people in high-risk groups or to someone who has been exposed to a person who has COVID-19.

The treatment is generally given to immunocompromised people or those who have not been fully vaccinated.

How effective is the mAbs treatment?

Monoclonal antibody treatment has been shown to be very effective.

Study results released by Regeneron showed that patients who received treatment within 10 days of the onset of symptoms had a 70% reduction in their risk of hospitalization and death.

How much do the treatments cost?

The U.S. has purchased more than $2 billion worth of mAb treatment doses.

Costs for the drugs vary; however, the treatments are free to Americans. There can be an administration fee attached to the treatment.

Where are they available?

Monoclonal antibodies are available at hospitals and clinics across the country.

Here, from the Department of Health and Human Services, is a current list of facilities that have the treatment.