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Antibody drug tested in Cook County may be helpful to some COVID-19 patients, results show
Wednesday, October 28, 2020 Chicago Tribune by Hal Dardick
A new antibody-based drug shows promise in treating outpatients who have mild to severe COVID-19, according to initial results of research conducted in part at Cook County Health and Northwestern University.
Patients given the drug were hospitalized or visited the emergency room less often than those given a placebo, Cook County Health officials said. The patients receiving the drug also showed improvement within two to six days, a shorter disease course that is not only good for patients but also may reduce the amount of time a person is infectious, helping protect other people.
The drug, manufactured by Eli Lilly and AbCellera Biologics Inc., was tested on 452 outpatients at 24 medical institutions across the country, including Cook County’s vast public health system and the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.Most of the 14 patients who took part at Cook County Health were Latino or Black, populations that have been hit especially hard by the disease.
The results of the continuing study, which is being run by Eli Lilly, were published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.
The drug, administered through a one-time infusion, includes the replicated antibodies of one of the first patients in the United States to survive COVID-19. It’s classified as a monoclonal antibody treatment, the same type of medication given to President Donald Trump after he was diagnosed with the disease and which he described as “a cure.”
The drug in the Eli Lilly trial was formulated using a single antibody. The drug Trump received was made by Regeneron and involves two antibodies.
Dr. Gregory Huhn, an infectious disease expert who led the arm of the Eli Lilly research conducted at Cook County Health, made it clear that the drug is a treatment, not a cure.
“Our hope has been that the antibody drug will reduce COVID symptoms quickly after diagnosis and help to eradicate the virus more quickly," Huhn said. “While a vaccine is still necessary, this drug therapy has the potential to prevent bad clinical outcomes and complications of COVID-19.”
Scientists have surmised that monoclonal antibodies would be more effective earlier in the course of the disease, and that so far appears to be the case. Another recently released study found the Eli Lilly drug had no benefit for patients sick enough to be hospitalized — results that brought the research to a halt. Most of those patients also were treated with the antiviral drug remdesivir.
“There’s a more compelling argument to administer antibodies early on, before our own bodies generate their own immune response," Huhn said.
The results released Wednesday found that 1.6% of outpatients given the Eli Lilly drug needed to be hospitalized or visit an emergency room, compared with 6.3% of patients who received a placebo. The drug worked by reducing the amount of virus in people’s bodies, the study determined.
The study’s findings also indicate better outcomes among high-risk patients — defined as patients 65 or older or morbidly obese patients who were at least 35 years old. In that population, 4.2% who received the drug were hospitalized, compared with 14.6% who got the placebo, Huhn said.
Further phases of the Eli Lilly research will include testing a medication that contains an additional cloned antibody on COVID-19 patients who are considered at high risk of becoming seriously ill.
Hal Dardick investigates politics, government finances and taxes for the Chicago Tribune. He previously covered Chicago and Cook County government at the paper, after many years reporting on suburban politics, courts and crime as a freelance and wire-service reporter. He’s a former collegiate gymnast who likes real jazz, good food and fine wine.