It was ominous when a nurse at Heartland Health Care Center, a Moline, Illinois nursing home, tested positive for COVID-19. COVID-19 can spread through nursing homes like wildfire due to congregate living environments involving residents in close quarters with shared communal activities and meals. Nursing home residents make up around 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. despite making up only 1.2 percent of the U.S. population.
This nursing home, though, had a defense. Heartland was the first facility to participate in a large clinical trial of monoclonal antibodies for the prevention of COVID-19 infection.
Testing on older people is uncommon because the elderly can have pre-existing conditions that make it hard to tell if the medication is working, and nursing homes have to deal with complex access and privacy regulations.
Scientists are happy that they’re getting a chance to do research on nursing home residents.
“These patients are so underserved,” said Kaiser Permanente’s Dr. Rebecca Boxer. “They do not get access to innovative new drugs and trials.”
Monoclonal antibodies are artificially synthesized versions of real antibodies produced by the human body. The antibody in this case was “cloned” from the COVID-19 antibodies in a Seattle man’s blood. That man was one of the first patients to survive COVID-19.
Monoclonal antibodies have already been used in effective arthritis, cancer, lupus and Ebola treatments, but they are expensive and difficult to manufacture.
“Some people ask, ‘If we have a vaccine, why do this?’” said Dr. Myron Cohen of the University of North Carolina. “But a vaccine will take a month to produce antibodies, and some populations need a more emergent intervention.”
Eli Lilly researchers are watching for nursing homes which see a single case of COVID-19 after no cases for at least 14 days, sending a team to the facility as soon as possible when they find it.
A team showed up to Heartland and quickly turned their dining room into an antibody infusion center. Participants are randomly assigned to receive a placebo or the monoclonal antibody.
The study is being done in nursing homes and extended care facilities across the U.S. and will enroll 2,400 staff and residents. Eli Lilly hopes to enlist 500 facilities and they anticipate 40 to 80 participants at each facility.
The researchers say the drug should remain in the bodies of participants for at least a month and possibly for as long as three months.
For more information on COVID-19 in nursing homes, visit https://www.personalinjurylawcal.com/coronavirus-lawsuit/