AUSTIN, Texas — Texas will start receiving weekly shipments of a new antibody therapy that just received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Bamlanivimab, produced by Eli Lilly and Company, will help patients recently diagnosed with COVID-19 with mild to moderate symptoms. During clinical trials, the intravenous infusion drug was found to reduce a patient's chances of having to go to the hospital or emergency room due to a coronavirus infection.
Gov. Greg Abbott's office said in a statement Texas hospitals will start receiving the drug this week.
"This initial allotment of bamlanivimab will help health care professionals effectively treat cases of COVID-19 within their communities and aid in reducing hospitalizations," Gov. Abbott said in a statement. "I thank the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for providing Texas with this crucial antibody therapy that will help keep Texans safe and mitigate the spread of COVID-19."
In an interview with KTRK-TV in Houston, Gov. Abbott said Texas will also soon receive the Regeneron therapeutic drug, which could help people battling the virus. It's the same drug that helped cure President Donald Trump's coronavirus infection.
"As early as next week, now we will begin shipping across Texas, including in the Houston area, this new antibody therapy that's been issued by Eli Lilly and then coming a week or two after that will be the Regeneron therapeutic drug," Abbott said. "For anybody who gets COVID, we will now have drugs available."
The FDA did not authorize bamlanivimab for people who are already hospitalized with COVID-19 or for people who require oxygen therapy while battling the virus.
Infectious disease expert at UT Health San Antonio and Texas Medical Association COVID-19 task force member Dr. Jan Patterson explained the antibody therapy infusion is similar to Regeneron.
"With this infusion, you actually get some laboratory-made proteins that are laboratory-made antibodies against the virus that help prevent the virus from entering cells," Patterson said. "It's a very early treatment that simply helps prevent progression."
The drug infusion is meant for high-risk people diagnosed with the coronavirus, but prior to any hospitalization.
"Obesity is a big risk factor for progression, chronic kidney disease, diabetes and immunosuppressed patients," Patterson said. "In those patients that are at high risk for progression, this could be a good tool to help prevent hospitalization and morbidity mortality."
Patterson said to be effective, the infusion must be administered early after diagnosis.
Gov. Abbott's office said in the release Friday the drug would be distributed to hardest-hit areas first. The distribution will be based on areas with the highest numbers of new cases and new hospitalizations.
In the Austin area, Baylor Scott and White hospitals anticipate receiving the antibody therapy. A spokesperson for St. David's HealthCare said infectious disease experts "are working closely with the state on details related to the administration of this medication." Ascension Seton did not respond to KVUE's email asking if the hospital system would receive any of the antibody therapy.
Gov. Abbott also seemed encouraged by recent COVID-19 vaccine development news and seemed hopeful that 20 million doses will be available by the end of the month. He attributed that number to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
In the interview with KTRK, Gov. Abbott emphasized the importance of making sure the treatments and vaccine are first available to frontline healthcare workers and people at the highest risk of dying from the virus.
Meanwhile, health officials are trying to figure out another hurdle when it comes to distributing the vaccine: How to store it.
The vaccine needs to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, which calls for an ultra-cold freezer. While big-box pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS say their facilities are fully equipped to store Pfizer's vaccine, many pharmacies and medical providers do not have freezers of that capacity, according to Good Morning America.
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