Mid-South man one of the 1st in US to get new COVID therapy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Earlier this month, Andy Shepherd developed a fever, headache, nasal congestion and lost his sense of taste and smell. He got tested for COVID-19 and when he got a positive test result, he was concerned.

“Considering that I have diabetes and hypertension and A-positive blood, I was a little bit worried,” he said. “Am I going to be one of those people that you read about in the news? Is there anything I can do?”

Shepherd is a nurse and a pharmaceutical sales representative, so he called a local physician he knows well to ask about any new treatments available. That doctor referred Shepherd to physicians at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis, which had just received a new COVID-19 drug specifically intended to keep newly-infected individuals from developing symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization.

He tested positive on a Friday and on a Monday morning, Shepherd became one of the first people in the country to receive monoclonal antibody treatment bamlanivimab one week after it received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s pretty incredible. I’m so thankful. I know my family is and I know I am because I can already tell I’m feeling better,” he said Monday afternoon. “This is great for anybody that may come down with COVID or have family members that have underlying conditions.”

Dr. Steve Threlkeld, co-chair of the infection control program at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis, said Shepherd was a prime candidate to receive the new drug. Because of the limited availability, the drug is being limited to people with the risk factors that make it more likely they could require hospitalization. And it is most effective early in the course of the infection.

“To be optimal…we should be within three days of a laboratory diagnosis and within seven days or so of the beginning of your symptoms,” he said.

The FDA gave the drug emergency use authorization — which is different from full approval — on Nov. 9.

“While the safety and effectiveness of this investigational therapy continues to be evaluated, bamlanivimab was shown in clinical trials to reduce COVID-19-related hospitalization or emergency room visits in patients at high risk for disease progression within 28 days after treatment when compared to placebo,” the agency said in a statement.

Reducing the likelihood of hospitalization and emergency department visits has a benefit beyond just the individual with COVID-19 and their family, Threlkeld said.

“It’s a benefit to the patient, of course, and it’s also a benefit to the healthcare system which is now, in many parts of the country, coming close to overload,” he said.

Like other monoclonal antibody treatments, including one that is undergoing clinical trials at Regional One Health, bamlanivimab is a lab-developed antibody. It clings to the spike proteins on the virus, prevents it from being able to enter into human cells and “puts the virus out of business,” Threlkeld said.

Since it is developed specifically to cling to those proteins — the spikes seen coming off the virus in pictures — it is more targeted than the convalescent plasma that has been used previously.


While the drug has been authorized for use, being able to get the treatment to Shepherd on Monday morning was something of a logistical feat.

Threlkeld said limited quantities of the drug were available and it didn’t ship to Baptist until Friday. Over the weekend, hospital staff built out two new negative pressure rooms for the IV treatment to be administered in.

Now that the capability to administer the drug exists, Threlkeld said Baptist is looking to use it to treat more COVID-19 patients and to procure more of the drug for future use.

“It’s a great potential benefit for people. We have the ability here both to impact the care of patients, to make people better. And also we can do it at a time that minimizes their need to be hospitalized,” he said.

As cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, that ability to release pressure on the healthcare system is essential. As of Sunday night, there were 361 COVID-19 patients in Memphis area hospitals and 686 new cases of the virus were reported by the Shelby County Health Department Monday.

But the authorization of bamlanivimab is something of a bright spot.

“The numbers of cases are really depressing right now, but we’re getting a whole lot of great possibilities in terms of therapies and vaccines right now, coming out, and this is just one of them,” Threlkeld said.

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