When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that had tested postiive for Covid-19, his office shared that he was treated with a therapy not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but one of the few shown to be effective against the virus: monoclonal antibodies.
Monoclonal antibodies such as those made by Regeneron and GlaxoSmithKline won’t work for every Covid-19 patient; mAbs, as they are known, are only available for people age 12 and older and who aren’t hospitalized or severely ill.
Regeneron’s therapy can also be used for some people who know they were exposed to the virus, but don’t yet have a positive test. That protection doesn’t last long, though, and it’s not a replacement for the vaccine.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who, like Abbott, has banned vaccine passports and limited mandates on masks in schools, has been promoting the treatments at events. Florida also created a rapid response unit to administer the treatments to residents infected with the virus.
“These monoclonal antibodies, Regeneron and others, have proven to radically reduce the chance that somebody ends up being hospitalized and at the end of the day, reducing hospital admissions is got to be a top priority and if you reduce those admissions, people don’t go to the hospital to begin with, you know they’re going to recover and so that’s a really important thing,” said DeSantis, a Republican.
The treatments are effective at reducing severe disease; however, some scientists have been critical of the push for these treatments over other, easier prevention methods.
“We know what works to prevent people from contracting this disease in the first place, masking and vaccination. We should be focusing on these preventive measures,” said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. “It’s totally backwards to say that we should be focused on treatment instead of emphasizing prevention, and the steps that we know work to stop Covid-19 in the first place.”
Here’s what you should know about monoclonal antibodies for Covid-19.
What is a monoclonal antibody?
Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made proteins, that can mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off threats like the coronavirus.
When a patient is infected it takes a little while for their body to produce antibodies that can help them fight the infection. These treatments, also known as mAbs, can speed up the body’s ability to fight infection.
Two mAbs made specifically to fight the coronavirus are in use in the United States right now.
The US Food and Drug Administration gave an emergency use authorization to a treatment made by Regeneron called casirivimab and imdevimab, and another made by GlaxoSmithKline called sotrovimab. So far, none have received full FDA approval.
In April, the FDA revoked its emergency use authorization and put a pause on the distribution of Eli Lilly’s antibody treatment bamlanivimab since it wasn’t as effective against variants in circulation in the US. In June, HHS announced a pause in the distribution of Lilly’s other treatment etesevimab, as well as its combination of the two monoclonals, as neither worked as well against the Gamma and Beta coronavirus variants.
Can they prevent Covid-19?
The antibody therapy made by Regneron is also authorized to be used as a preventative treatment, or what’s known as a post-exposure prophylaxis.