Austin doctors are working on a new shot for treating COVID-19 patients


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin doctors are part of a nationwide study for COVID-19 antibody therapy that can help keep patients out of the hospital and is more easily administered than current treatments.

Currently, COVID-19 infusion therapy is dispensed through an IV.

“So far, we have shown great benefit for the antibodies decreasing the risk of hospitalization or worse by 70 to 87%, if given early,” said Dr. Robert Gottlieb, Baylor Scott & White principal investigator for COVID-19 therapeutic trials.

He said although data already shows antibody treatment helps reduce the risk of severe illness and even death for COVID-19 patients, the current process takes a lot of time and staffing.

“That requires coming to a facility that can place an IV, and then monitor the infusion,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

The 11-county trauma service area covering Austin has a record number of COVID patients in the ICU.

Baylor Scott & White said it’s been giving out 40% more antibody treatment doses in the last few weeks.

Dr. Gottlieb working on a new antibody drug given through a shot in the stomach that he hopes can eventually be self-administered, like an insulin shot.

“That way, we… wouldn’t need to overburden our health care entities that are delivering care to the critically ill,” Gottlieb said.

Victoria McKenna believes she would have been another hospitalized COVID-19 patient.

“There were a lot of times when I, you know, couldn’t get that breath in, and I said, ‘Oh maybe I should just go to the hospital, maybe they can give me something that would help me,'” she said.

McKenna said she started going to bed around 5 p.m., because difficulty breathing meant it took her four or five hours to fall asleep.

“COVID is really no joke,” she said.

She also developed sharp eye pain and olfactory hallucinations.

“It smelled like an ashtray or like I was locked in a burning building, and you just can’t escape it, and it’s solely in your nose,” McKenna explained.

That’s why she decided to sign up for BSW’s COVID-19 antibody shot trial. She saw improvement the day after getting four shots in her stomach.

“I woke up and felt like a new person,” she said. “My headache went away. My eye pain started diminishing.”

The trial is sponsored by Eli Lilly and Company. Doctors administer the shots one time and monitor the patient on site for an hour. Then, they do a series of home visits to check on the patient and see how much their viral load lessens.

McKenna said she’s learned a lot through her COVID-19 battle.

“I didn’t necessarily understand the gravity to which COVID can affect me or my family,” she said. “I was unvaccinated. I’m young and I said, ‘You know what, I’m young and healthy, and therefore, it doesn’t affect me as much.'”

McKenna said she was considered low risk. She didn’t smoke or drink, is a healthy weight and exercises frequently.

“Going back, I would have rather been vaccinated,” McKenna said. “Because when you’re in that situation, there’s no going back… there’s no way to undo what happened, you just have to really wait it out and hope that your body can take the toll of that virus.”

Dr. Gottlieb expects trial results in the next few weeks. Until then, he said quarantine advice needs to change.

“Back in March of 2020, we told patients, ‘If you don’t need the hospital, stay at home and quarantine.’ We made it a very passive exercise,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

He says for 2021, that message needs to be updated.

“Please get vaccinated. If, however, you do get sick, don’t just passively quarantine — actively quarantine. If you don’t need the hospital, seek out the neutralizing monoclonal antibodies, because it can make the difference between recovery,” Gottlieb said.

BSW said it has made use of more than 8,000 COVID-19 antibody doses outside of the trial. 

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