LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County’s largest hospital is administering some of the state’s first antibody drugs to high-risk COVID-19 patients.

Bamlanivimab, manufactured by Eli Lilly & Co., is a monoclonal, lab-engineered treatment that acts like a human antibody in the immune system.

“It takes a little time for the body to mount a natural immune response, so this is actually an immune response that is created in a lab,” said Dr. Hal Escowitz, Lakeland Regional Health’s chief medical informatics officer and chief quality officer.

Courtesy Eli Lilly & Co.

Dr. Escowitz, who is also an emergency room physician, said COVID-19-related hospitalizations are steadily rising at Lakeland Regional Health.

The goal of Bamlanivimab is to allow patients with mild to moderate symptoms to recover at home.

Lakeland Regional Health received 140 doses in its first shipment and 40 more last week.

Florida has been allotted between 3,000 to 4,000 doses from the federal government, based on the density and severity of the virus in population centers, Escowitz said.

Tampa General Hospital announced last week it was Florida’s first hospital to offer the drug, calling it a “dramatic shift in COVID-19 care.”

“Effective delivery of this treatment can be logistically complicated,” said Dr. Kami Kim, the director of the Division Infectious Diseases and International Medicine at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “Tampa General Hospital and USF Health were already actively conducting clinical trials on COVID-19 and had the team, location and infrastructure in place to identify and care for the patients who can benefit most from this treatment.”

The drug is administered through an IV injection for one hour, one time only.

Patients must remain under medical supervision for an hour after the injection to monitor for any allergic reactions.

The drug is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but was given an emergency use authorization by the FDA on Nov. 9.

It’s authorized for high-risk patients only.

“Anyone over 65 is considered high risk. Anyone over 55 with a history of hypertension or heart disease,” Escowitz said.

Symptomatic COVID-19 patients may also be eligible if they meet one of the following criteria: a body mass index (BMI) greater than 35, have diabetes, are receiving immunosuppressive treatment or have chronic kidney disease.

Lakeland Regional Health administered the drug to eight patients last week and a few more patients were scheduled for Monday morning.

“To my knowledge not a single of the eight patients that have been high-risk that have gotten it have needed to be required to come back to the emergency department or be hospitalized which is what the drug intended to do,” Escowitz said.

The drug is free to patients, Dr. Escowitz said.

In order to be eligible, the patient must have first shown symptoms within the last 10 days.

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