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As Texas Doles Out Eli Lilly Antibody Treatment, Virologist Says Don't Let Guard Down

A blue hospital bed inside a temporary medical tent.
Gabriel C. Pérez
KUT News
The governor's office says bamlanivimab will be distributed to acute care facilities across the state to try to help reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Bamlanivimab is shown to help 1 in 3 people who receive it, but data show its effects may not be much different than a placebo.

From Texas Standard:

This week, Texas began distributing an emergency monoclonal antibody treatment to some patients with COVID-19. The treatment, bamlanivimab, is produced by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, and it's supposed to help the immune system fight the coronavirus.

Dr. Hana El Sahly, an associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology and medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told Texas Standard that the treatment has been shown to help "neutralize" the virus. But it's not a surefire cure.

Eli Lilly had to prove that the treatment is effective in order to get an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. It showed that one in three doses significantly reduced the amount of the coronavirus in the nose, compared to a placebo. It's meant for those with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, not those with severe infections.

"That was the main outcome they were after, which is eliminating the virus from the nose in one of the three evaluated dosages because they tested three different doses of the monoclonal. So one of them seemed to work well," Sahly said.

But less convincing is the so-called clinical outcome, which includes symptom scores for people who received the antibody treatment versus those who received a placebo.

"The clinical outcome of symptom score was only minimally different between people who got the antibody and those who got just placebo," she said.

Eli Lilly is just one company developing antibody treatments for emergency use. Antibody treatments themselves aren't new – they have helped protect premature babies at risk for respiratory syncytial virus. Monoclonal antibodies also decreased mortality rates in some patients with Ebola. But using them for infectious diseases is not "widespread," she said.

Even as Texas rolls out this treatment, Sahly says its not time to let our guard down.

"We all should be washing hands, wearing the mask and keeping our distance, because a lot of the data we are hearing remains early," she said.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.