Palomar Health Offering Monoclonal Anti-body Therapy to General Public


02.18.2021

Palomar Health is offering a new intervention in the fight against COVID-19, monoclonal anti-body therapy. While this type of therapy has been around for more than 30 years to treat infectious diseases and cancer, the FDA only recently gave emergency-use approval to use this technology to help patients infected with COVID-19.

While most health systems offer this therapy to their own patients in limited capacity, Palomar Health is the only healthcare provider offering monoclonal anti-body therapy to the general public, through a partnership with the County of San Diego. This became possible through the repurposing of the downtown Escondido hospital campus, no longer used as a medical center. Empty patient rooms became the perfect site to host up to 50 patients per day. Palomar Health previously was only able to treat a couple of patients a day due to limited space in the busy Emergency Department. The therapy takes about an hour and a half when factoring in prep and patient monitoring time. With the added capacity, Palomar Health is encouraging everyone in the region who meets the criteria to use it.

Therapy is open to the public at no charge.

“If you have been diagnosed positive with COVID-19 and this is likely going to be a severe disease for you, we’d love for you to come in and get the infusion treatment,” Palomar Health Chief Medical Officer Omar Khawaja, M.D., said.

Anyone 65 and older who has tested positive for the disease and is within the first 10 days of the onset of symptoms, can self-refer to the infusion center by calling (619) 685-2500 or emailing COVIDtreatment@sdcounty.ca.gov. If you are younger than 65 and have certain co-morbidities, you may also qualify but must receive a physician referral. The infusion is offered at no charge, regardless of insurance.

Monoclonal anti-bodies are created in a lab.

Palomar Health Infectious Disease Pharmacist John Engelbert, PharmD, explains that monoclonal anti-bodies are lab-created clones duplicated from anti-bodies taken from previously infected patients. The anti-bodies are mixed with a liquid solution and infused into a patient’s bloodstream intravenously through a drip bag, similar to receiving a saline infusion. Monoclonal anti-body infusions have proven more successful than convalescent plasma therapy (blood transferred from a previously infected patient) because the amount and quality of anti-bodies are perfectly consistent in contrast to blood plasma.

The IV infusion takes 16 minutes and an hour for patient monitoring. Negative side effects are extremely rare and treated by a physician’s assistant on-site. Studies have shown a high-success rate for stopping the progression of the virus and symptoms with most patients feeling better within hours. This is due, Dr. Khawaja says, to the antibodies binding to the COVID particles in your body, keeping them from growing and spreading.

Through the infusion “we can actually give the patient anti-bodies and give their immune system a boost to fight off the virus,” Dr. Engelbert said. “If you can mount an effective immune response, the disease is not usually very severe.”

The key with monoclonal anti-body therapy is early intervention. The infusion is most effective within the first 10 days and before the patient experiences severe symptoms. In fact, patients already hospitalized and on ventilators are not good candidates for the therapy. Of the 50 patients Palomar Health had infused with the anti-body therapy before opening the clinic, only one needed hospitalization and that patient received the infusion late and was released from the hospital within five days.

Therapy should reduce symptoms, hospitalizations and deaths.

There is much talk about new virus strains; so to stay viable, labs are continuing to update the anti-body’s genetic structure to respond to mutations. The most recent drug is called bam-bam, short for bamlanivimab, the proper name for the anti-body solution made by Lilly. It is showing to be effective against new virus strains and as more strains become prevalent, monoclonal anti-bodies will continue to be updated.

While the therapy is still in the early stages, indications are that monoclonal anti-body therapy promises to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms, hospitalizations and deaths. To learn more about how you can get this therapy, visit Palomar Health’s website.

Photo caption: Palomar Health Pharmacist Garrett Rueda holds a vial of monoclonal anti-body solution. 


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