Two new antibody treatments have shown promise in keeping high-risk Covid-19 patients out of the hospital.
Although President Trump, who received Regeneron treatment in October and lauded it as a “cure,” received a boost in advertising, the drugs have not been widely distributed since they were approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration last month.
Now federal and state health authorities are calling on patients and doctors to seek treatments.
Here’s what you need to know.
What are monoclonal antibodies?
The two treatments by Eli Lilly and Regeneron are the first drugs specifically designed for Covid-19 and approved by the FDA. They are made from artificially synthesized copies of the antibodies that humans naturally produce when their immune systems fight off an infection. Eli Lilly’s drug consists of an antibody. Regeneron’s is a cocktail of two.
Early data showed that it can prevent hospitalization in people at high risk of serious complications from the disease. Clinical studies continue. The treatments are believed to help turn the virus off shortly after infection.
Who do the treatments help?
Treatments can be given to anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus, is at high risk of developing a severe form of the disease, and occurs within 10 days of symptoms first appearing.
This includes people who are at least 65 years old and those who are obese or have diseases such as diabetes.
The treatments are not approved for people who have already been hospitalized or need oxygen, as studies in these groups have not shown the drugs to work well.
How much do they cost?
Under agreements each company has made with the federal government, the doses are free, although some patients may have to pay for the administration of the drug, which must be infused by a healthcare provider, depending on insurance coverage.
Are these treatments widely used?
Monoclonal antibody treatments are difficult and time consuming to manufacture, which has limited the number of doses made by drug manufacturers.
The federal government has bought 950,000 cans from Eli Lilly and 300,000 cans from Regeneron. Pharmaceutical companies have already dispensed hundreds of thousands of these doses, with the rest expected in late January.
How many people have received the treatments?
Nobody knows, but many of the cans that have been distributed so far have remained unused and are sitting in hospital refrigerators.
While the federal government has nearly 532,000 doses of the two drugs available and nearly 291,000 doses have been shipped, neither the government nor the drug companies have complete data on how many of these doses have been given to patients.
The subset of hospitals that report data to the government on the number of doses administered has, on average, used only 20 percent of their supply, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Why are they only getting a few patients?
The drugs are used unevenly across the country. Some hospitals cannot get enough doses. Others haven’t even used much of what they got so far.
Several factors have contributed to the underutilization: Hospitals are overwhelmed by the virus flood and are focusing on the first vaccines. And they need to be housed in their crowded facilities where the treatments can be infused over a period of hours without spreading the virus to others.
Some patients have been reluctant to engage in treatments, be it because they are unwilling to go to a clinic while feeling sick, lack of transportation, or because they perceive the drugs as connected people only for patients who are felt to be good. And the scarcity of treatments adds to their underuse as some hospitals withhold supplies for fear of leakage.
How can i get it?
There is no single hotline or website that patients can use to find a provider who offers the treatments.
Many health systems have put in place ways to identify and contact eligible patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus at test sites or in doctor’s offices. However, these referral systems vary from municipality to municipality.
Eli Lilly’s support line for treatment is 1-855-545-5921. A Regeneron spokeswoman recommended that patients or doctors contact the state health department.
Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, Eli Lilly’s chief scientist, said he advises friends and family members to call the company’s hotline. “If you are persistent and you qualify, you will get it,” he said.