A therapy newly approved by the FDA for emergency use to help patients who test positive for COVID-19 is now available to the general public in San Diego County outside a hospital setting at Palomar Health’s downtown Escondido hospital campus.
This is the only monoclonal antibody therapy available to the general public, through a partnership with the County of San Diego.
Monoclonal anti-body therapy has been used for more than 30 years to treat cancer and infectious diseases, and hospitals have been using it to treat COVID-19 patients with success since the FDA emergency authorization.
“Millions of years of evolution have taught us how to fight a virus, and we’re taking that technology, that ability, that the human body has, and we’re just duplicating it,” said Chief Medical Officer for Palomar Health, Omar Khawaja, MD, MBA.
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Normally, when you get a virus your body has an immune response and creates antibodies, but that doesn't happen with COVID-19 as it is a new virus.
That is when science can step in, said Khawaja, MD, MBA “What we’ve done is we have actually taken those antibodies cloned them in a lab,” adding that not only are the anti-bodies cloned, but the scientific process can make much more of them.
And when infused into the bloodstream those monoclonal antibodies get to work, “This binds to the virus and sort of handcuffs it so that it can’t do the bad things that it would normally do inside your body,” said Khawaja, MD, MBA. And it is different from a vaccine which takes months to trigger your own antibodies.
At Palomar Health’s facility on East Valley Parkway up to 50 patients a day can receive the IV infusion injected by a nurse or physician’s assistant.
The infusion takes about 16 minutes and the whole procedure takes about an hour and half including prep and patient monitoring for any allergic reactions or side effects following the treatment. Palomar Health said they have not had any issues so far.
People who qualify for monoclonal anti-body therapy at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19 and are 65 and up or have a pre-existing condition.
And timing is critical as the therapy must be administered within about the first ten days of symptoms.
“Unfortunately, if you let that virus start to spread inside of your body it just overwhelms what the therapy can do so you really want to catch it early,” said Khawaja, MD, MBA.
And catching it early with this very effective therapy means less people need hospital care, making it another tremendous tool in the fight against COVID-19.
“I think that we know how to treat the disease as best we can at this point, we know how in the community to really come together and support each other to stop the spread and we have a vaccine that from all accounts is highly effective,” said Khawaja, MD, MBA.
People 65 and up who test positive for COVID-19 can inquire about the treatment directly, others with pre-existing conditions will need to get a referral from their physician.
Palomar Health said there is no cost for monoclonal anti-body therapy at the downtown Escondido Palomar Health campus.
It is covered by insurance or by San Diego County, if the patient does not have insurance.