What are monoclonal antibodies? Infectious disease specialists help explain

Florida launches antibody treatment effort to help hospitals

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A rapid response unit is being rolled out in Jacksonville to allow more COVID-19 patients to get access to monoclonal antibody treatment.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made the announcement Thursday, saying the treatment that has emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration is one of the best ways to reduce hospitalizations in the state outside of getting vaccinated.

“This, if applied early and properly, has the ability to reduce the likelihood of being hospitalized by 70% in clinical trials,” DeSantis said.

But what are monoclonal antibodies? According to infectious disease specialists, they are human-made proteins that can reduce a patient’s viral load, helping them fight infections.

Dr. Ameen Pirasteh, an infectious disease pharmacist with Baptist Health, explained how the treatment is being used to help patients with COVID-19.

“It’s being used in patients who have like mild disease and are not on oxygen and who have some risk factors, so it can be anything from hypertension to chronic kidney disease,” Pirasteh said.

Baptist Health doctors told News4Jax that they’ve been treating patients with the therapy since December 2020 and the results have been promising, but treatments have to be given within the first 10 days of having any symptoms.

“Patients seem to feel a lot better 48 to 72 hours after getting the infusion,” Pirasteh said.

On The Morning Show on Friday, Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval Medical Society Foundation, explained that early intervention is definitely the key.

“Within the first 10 days of symptoms is when you really should be treated,” Joshi said. “Once you get past that time period, it’s much less likely to be effective.”

Dr. Sunil Joshi, President of the Duval Medical Society Foundation, joins us to discuss the monoclonal antibody treatments brought by the mobile response units in Jacksonville.

News4Jax anchor and I-TEAM reporter Vic Micolucci’s uncle, Mike Funk, received monoclonal antibody therapy.

“When I got up about six hours later, it was a miracle. I was I felt like it was 100%,” Funk said. “I didn’t believe it to happen that fast, but it did.”

Mary Barrentine also told News4Jax that the therapy helped her fight COVID-19.

“Since I figured I would be a prime candidate with my history of asthma and such that it’d be better than not doing anything,” Barrentine said. “My X-rays still came back clear.”

Doctors want to remind the public that this is not a substitute for the vaccine.

“It’s not a magic infusion, so you may not feel better right away, but you won’t get worse -- which is very important,” said Dr. Shalika Katugaha, system medical director of infectious diseases at Baptist Health. “The monoclonal antibodies, we are so lucky to have that in place at Baptist and here in the Jacksonville community right now. That being said, monoclonal antibodies, they aren’t a substitute for the vaccine.”

The new pop-up site in Jacksonville is located on East Bay Street on the grassy former home of the Duval County Courthouse. The city said Regeneron’s antibody therapy is being offered. According to health officials, it is administered in one sitting through four shots.

Right now, only people with referrals from their doctors are able to receive the treatment there, but DeSantis said he hopes to expand access in the coming weeks. The city of Jacksonville also told News4Jax it is working to move the facility away from the old courthouse lot and into the Main Library downtown next week.

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.