Sarasota Memorial is the first hospital in Florida to begin a scientific trial using an experimental antibody treatment to attack coronavirus. Doctors hope the treatment, called REGN-COV2 and made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, will offer a new way to treat and possibly prevent COVID-19.
SMH infectious disease doctor Manuel Gordillo said he is “very excited” about the trial, which began at Sarasota Memorial Hospital on Thursday as part of a wider multi-national study.
“This is a new antibody that has been specifically designed to attack the spike protein, which is a critical part of the coronavirus. It is the part of the virus that attaches to the human cells,” Gordillo said.
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It is first being tested in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and who need oxygen. A second study is scheduled to begin in mid-July, testing the treatment in people with milder illness who are not hospitalized.
After that, a study will begin using the dual-action antibody treatment as a preventive measure in people who have been exposed to coronavirus and are at risk of getting sick.
“We will be giving them this treatment about once a month to try to prevent this. It will be sort of like a monthly vaccine type of treatment,” Gordillo said.
Regeneron’s antibody treatment is grown in a lab, so its supply doesn’t rely on human donations, like convalescent plasma, which doctors say is running critically low.
Another promising anti-viral treatment, remdesivir, is also in short supply. Gordillo said Florida ran out of remedesivir at the state level this week. He said hospital officials have sought federal help to get more. Governor Ron DeSantis said more vials would arrive Saturday.
Gordillo said the Regeneron antibody treatment is “the most promising technology out there. This will be like the next generation of treatments, so to speak.”
Last month, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly launched the first trial using a monoclonal antibody to attack coronavirus.
Like hospitals around Florida, Sarasota Memorial Hospital is seeing a surge in patients who are sick with COVID-19.
“Within a month, we have gone from single-digit patients to our nearly 100 patients in the hospital today,” said Gordillo in a Zoom interview distributed by the hospital on Friday.
“We're not going to get out of this second wave for a few weeks. At least until you know, there is less transmission in the community and usually that takes behavioral changes. That is going to take a while to develop," he added.
“The only effective measures that we have now are physical distancing, social distancing, mask use, hand hygiene and all the hygienic measures that we've been talking about for months now,” Gordillo said.