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Staff members at the UW Health Infusion Center are used to providing life-saving services to patients with cancer or other diseases.
So when they were asked to start providing a new service – aimed at keeping high-risk COVID-19 patients from getting any sicker – they didn’t bat an eye.
In November, the Infusion Center began administering a monoclonal antibody therapy to some COVID-positive patients considered to be at a higher-risk of hospitalization. The drug, known as bamlanivimab, had just received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA to treat some patients – including some cancer patients – with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.
“The goal of giving them this infusion is to reduce their viral load,” said Jessica Branson, DNP, nurse manager for the Infusion Center. “By doing that, we’re able to reduce their symptoms and hopefully keep them out of the hospital.”
As humans, we all naturally produce antibodies to fight off disease and viruses, but sometimes our immune systems need a bit of help. Monoclonal antibodies are proteins made in a laboratory designed to specifically target a certain antigen: in this case, the spike protein found on SARS-CoV-2.
While bamlanivimab is still considered an investigational therapy, results from early clinical trials demonstrated that the drug reduced COVID-19-related hospitalizations and visits to the emergency room among high-risk patients.
Since November, the Infusion Center staff have treated more than 250 patients with these antibodies. While it’s difficult to fully track how many patients were able to stay out of the hospital, the limited follow-up Branson has been able to conduct with patients has been positive.
“A lot of them say they felt better within a day or two after the infusion,” she said. “They say that their symptoms are drastically improved. I know one patient who wasn’t able to taste or smell, and within 24 hours of the infusion, was able to get some of that back.”
The Infusion Center is no stranger to treating cancer patients. In addition to stem cell collection for bone marrow transplant patients, the staff often provides chemotherapy and other supportive therapies for the UW Carbone Cancer Center. The Infusion Center is still providing all of those services, but has shifted a few things around to accommodate a new batch of patients.
While the center is still open from 8:00am-8:30pm during the week, staff members are now only seeing their usual patients during the day, and only COVID-19 patients after 4:30pm. These patients are also asked to use a separate parking lot and entrance, both of which are located near the Infusion Center. This helps minimize contact with other individuals in the hospital and maximize safety.
The infusion itself takes about one hour, but under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization, patients must remain under observation for an additional hour after the infusion. In total, these outpatient visits take about two-and-a-half hours.
While all of this has meant some extra work for staff, Branson says everyone was eager to lend a hand with the infusions.
“Among our staff, there was a definitely a feeling of excitement that we get to help now,” Branson said. “We get to do our part to help these patients and our community, as well as our overworked and overburdened colleagues in the hospital. We’re all excited to be fulfilling this role so that we can all have normal lives again.”