Monoclonal antibody treatments proving successful at keeping COVID-19 patients out of hospital

PITTSBURGH — Libbie Simione is grateful to her son Nathan for finding her a promising COVID-19 treatment in Pittsburgh that helped her to feel better in just days.

“I can never thank him enough for what he’s done from day one, incredible.” Libbie said, choking up.

The 65-year old Carnegie resident was UPMC’S 1000th patient to receive a monoclonal antibody infusion, which is authorized by the FDA for emergency use. She received the treatment one week ago, Friday. Two days later, she started feeling better.

“I was really bad. I was running a high fever, achy all over, coughing and sneezing, shortness of breath” she said. “I definitely turned the corner by Monday.”

New data encouraging

New data just released BY UPMC shows the mono-clonal antibody treatments are drastically reducing the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk patients.

“We observed that the monoclonal antibody treatment cut by nearly 70-percent the risk of hospitalization or death,” said UPMC’s Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Graham Snyder, at a news conference announcing the research findings.

UPMC called the results they’ve seen transformational to the COVID pandemic. The hospital system started providing the infusions in December at 16 locations in Pennsylvania, including several here in the Pittsburgh area. Patients must be over 65 years old, 55 and older with comorbid conditions, or ages 12-17 with comorbid conditions.

FDA rules require patients to get the treatment within the first 10 days of symptoms.

“Our results show if our patients get it within four days of the onset of symptoms, they have the best results. So, really, the earlier for this therapy, the better,” explained Dr. Erin McCreary, UPMC infectious disease pharmacist and one of the studies co-authors.

UPMC Senior Medical Director Donald Yealy said mild cases of COVID can quickly get much more serious, so they encourage patients to explore the monoclonal antibody option even with mild symptoms.

“We’ve seen people with what they though was mild COVID-19 for the first week, quickly take a turn for the worse and end up in our hospitals or even in our ICUs,” Yealy said.

Son to the rescue

Libbie’s son says he was terrified as he watched his mom continued to get worse and went online to try and find help. That’s when he came across the UPMC website with information for its monoclonal antibody program.

He called right away to learn more, but found himself having to convince his mother’s doctor to prescribe the treatment.

As Channel 11 first reported a month ago, some doctors are hesitant to approve the treatment because it is so new, but Nathan refused to give up.

“I love her with all my heart so I was going to do anything I possibly could. I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose her,” Nathan Simione said.

After learning more about the success of monoclonal antibodies, Libbie’s doctor gave the go ahead and they scheduled her infusion just in time, at nine days in.

“I always knew he loved me,” Libbie said of her only child. “Now I know how much he loves me.”

Moment of Serendipity

While Libbie was in the chair getting her infusion, her best friend sent her a link to Channel 11′s first report about UPMC’s monoclonal antibody treatment.

Libbie couldn’t believe the serendipity of that moment when she watched the story.

“I clicked on it and it was your article,” Libby said. “This is pretty ironic (I thought), while I was getting my treatment.”

It was the story of a daughter living in Tennessee fighting to get the treatment for her parents, Carol and Bill Barnes, here in Pittsburgh. Lisa Siard also had to convince her parent’s doctor to approve the treatment. Our story showed the miraculous results they experienced.

“It saved my life it sure did,” Bill Barnes told channel 11.

She says the story gave her hope.

“I was very touched, I was crying, I have to say.”

Carol and Bill Barnes continue to do well. Just a couple of weeks after their treatment, they were able to go out to dinner with their daughter Lisa to celebrate her mom’s 78th birthday.

Now, one week out from her treatment, Libbie is feeling much better, too.

“I was out walking in the garden yesterday. It was a wonderful feeling,” she said.

More information

The treatments are paid for by the federal government, so are free to patients.

It takes about an hour for patients to get the infusions, and then they are monitored for another hour to make sure there is no reaction. UPMC reports the rate of reactions from the treatment is “extremely low.”

“Only a handful of patients have had any kind of mild reaction, at all. The risk of COVID complications are far higher,” McCreary said.

For more information on UMPC’s monoclonal antibody program, click here or call 1-866-804-5251.