Washington, D.C., resident “feels fortunate” after receiving treatment
Columbia, MD — Richard Battista, 61, of Washington, D.C., has become the 1000th MedStar Health COVID-19 patient to be treated with the potentially life-saving monoclonal antibody therapy.
“It sounds like the antibody therapy makes this whole process easier and gives me the antibodies I need to fight the virus sooner, rather than my body having to make them,” said Battista. “If I can stay out of the hospital, it sounds like a winner to me!”
Richard Battista’s diagnosis and infusion of antibodies
Battista spiked a fever in mid-March and wasn’t feeling well on his drive home from work as the chief financial officer for a real estate management company in Maryland.
“I went to the MedStar Health Urgent Care in Bethesda and got tested,” recalled Battista. “As it turns out, I was positive for the virus. Two days later I was receiving the monoclonal antibody therapy, an infusion that took about 15-20 minutes. I had no side effects, so I was able to go home an hour later and continue my 14-day quarantine.”
Battista received his treatment at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in a space specially refurbished for COVID-19 patients to receive monoclonal antibody therapy. Similar infusion centers are operating at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton, Md., and MedStar Harbor Hospital in Baltimore. Emergency departments at all MedStar Health hospitals are also equipped to give the treatment.
“We are very pleased with the favorable results for our COVID-19 patients who receive this monoclonal antibody therapy,” said Princy Kumar, MD, co-Chair, COVID-19 Pandemic Response for MedStar Health, and chief of Infectious Diseases at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “The intent is to stop the virus in its tracks, so patients don’t get any sicker and don’t need to be hospitalized.”
What is monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19?
Our bodies naturally make antibodies to fight infection. When our immune system meets a new foreign substance in the body, it makes new antibodies that attack the foreign substance. The next time that substance shows up, our immune system can produce the same antibodies to help the body fight it off before it can make a person sick. These types of naturally occurring antibodies provide active immunity. Monoclonal antibodies are made in the laboratory and mimic the body’s ability to fight off viruses and pathogens.
"With antibody therapy, we’re able to give the body a shortcut, boosting its immune response by introducing antibodies pre-assembled and pre-programmed to fight the coronavirus,” said Dr. Kumar. “Monoclonal antibodies are developed in a laboratory and have a treatment effect similar to a vaccine. But, instead of prompting the body to create new antibodies, monoclonal antibody treatment delivers them directly, where they’re needed and can do the job more quickly than a vaccine. However, the monoclonal antibodies are removed from the body and therefore, you still need the vaccine for long term protection.”
Who should receive monoclonal antibodies?
In November 2020, the FDA cleared two monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 treatment: bamlanivimab, as well as a “cocktail” treatment of casirivimab and imdevimab. Both treatment approaches are currently available to early-stage COVID-19 patients.
FDA guidelines recommend monoclonal antibody treatment for the following patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are not hospitalized:
- 12 years or older
- Weigh more than 88 pounds
- Experiencing mild to moderate symptoms such as cough, fatigue, loss of appetite, and fever for fewer than 10 days
- At risk to get very sick from COVID-19
High-risk factors for serious illness from COVID-19 include:
- Age 65 or older
- Obesity (body mass index (BMI) greater than 35)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Immunosuppressive disease
- Currently receiving immunosuppressive treatment
- 55 or older with cardiovascular disease, uncontrolled hypertension or chronic pulmonary (lung) disease
“The FDA’s emergency use authorization has prompted healthcare organizations like MedStar Health to develop robust programs to administer these treatments,” said Glenn Wortmann, MD, co-Chair, COVID-19 Pandemic Response for MedStar Health and director of Infectious Diseases at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “The antibody treatments we have now work well, and we expect more and better treatments soon – treatments that will give us even stronger, more effective defenses against future pathogens, the bacteria and viruses that cause disease.”
Once recovered, should a monoclonal antibody patient get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Because active antibodies could interfere with the vaccine’s effectiveness, we advise waiting at least 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. That gives the antibodies time to clear the system and leaves the immune system primed to respond to the vaccine.
The use of monoclonal antibody therapy has already proven promising in the treatment of diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and other endocrine disorders as well as carrying chemotherapy or radiation agents directly to cancer cells.
Five days into his antibody treatment, Battista was continuing to rest and work from home with minimal COVID symptoms. “I’ve been fortunate,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty good. It’s all been very uneventful. I hope others will hear about this and they can take advantage of it, too.”
About MedStar Health
At MedStar Health, we use the best of our minds and the best of our hearts to serve our patients, those who care for them, and our communities. Our 30,000 associates and 4,700 affiliated physicians are committed to living this promise through our core SPIRIT values—Service, Patient first, Integrity, Respect, Innovation, and Teamwork—across our more than 300 locations including 10 hospitals, ambulatory, and urgent care centers. As the medical education and clinical partner of Georgetown University, MedStar Health is training future physician leaders to care for the whole person and is advancing care through the MedStar Health Research Institute. From our telemedicine and urgent care services to the region’s largest home health agency, we’re committed to providing high-quality health care that’s also easy and convenient for our patients. At MedStar Health—It’s how we treat people. Learn more at MedStarHealth.org.