A monoclonal antibody treatment designed for COVID-19 patients in the infancy of the infection is available right now to North Texans who join a clinical trial in Dallas.
Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made antibodies that mimic antibodies that are naturally produced.
Baylor Scott & White Health enrolled the very first patient in the trial, which investigates how the treatment works in patients who are newly diagnosed and whose infections are not severe enough to require hospitalization.
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It's one of several COVID-19 outpatient clinical trials happening at the Dallas site.
Patients receive a single intravenous infusion, administered at the hospital and then they go home.
Over the following few weeks, a home health research nurse visits them at home for blood draws and nasal swabs.
Ken Byers, father of two from Arlington, was the first patient to enroll in the double-blind study, meaning he received either the treatment or a placebo.
He doesn't know which he received.
"I’ve recovered and I've moved on and I’m doing great," said Byers. "I would be curious to see if my own health regimen was the main factor in me coming through so well or was it the antibody they were doing."
To make monoclonal antibody treatments, scientists screen through the natural antibodies that attach to the Sars-CoV-2 virus.
They identify the ones with the strongest bond and recreate those antibodies in a lab.
A batch is infused into a patient who just came down with the infection.
"If we see the virus load coming down, then we hope that the immune system response to the virus will also temper down, that the virus gets cleared and then you recover past the virus," said Dr. Robert Gottlieb, a transplant cardiologist on staff at Baylor University Medical Center and Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital in Dallas, as well as principal investigator at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute.
Dr. Gottlieb said the treatments should work just like convalescent plasma treatments, which takes natural antibodies from the blood plasma of a recovered COVID-19 patient, donates and infuses them into a sick patient.
However, he said, monoclonal antibodies can be produced on a mass scale and don't require blood products from a small pool of donors.
"With the monoclonal antibodies, each batch is the same. It doesn’t require a blood product and it’s well-characterized with consistency," he said.
The challenge, he warns, will be producing enough synthetic antibodies to meet the need, as he adds, researchers don’t know for certain how much of the treatment is needed for a patient to see improvement.
"We need to continue to social distance, wear masks and try to prevent this so that the limited supply that we do have can actually go as far as possible," said Gottlieb.
Recruitment of trial participants is crucial in order for scientists to find answers to their questions.
Gottlieb said they're looking for higher-risk patients just diagnosed with COVID-19 and adds that monoclonal antibodies is a promising therapeutic, not a cure for COVID-19.
Anyone interested in participating in monoclonal antibody trials at Baylor Scott & White can call 1-888-50-RESEARCH.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.