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With delta COVID variant spreading, UMass Memorial Medical Center starts giving monoclonal antibody treatments

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, Worcester Health Commissioner Dr. Matilde “Mattie” Castiel has been out in communities of color, seeing a disproportionate effect from the virus.

The commissioner has been trying to get the vaccine out to residents, but the toll of the pandemic is still visible as some remain hesitant to inoculation.

A treatment therapy now offered by UMass Memorial, however, will help prevent people from needing to be hospitalized because of the virus. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, UMass Memorial this week started giving monoclonal antibody treatment, or mAb treatment, to COVID patients.

Castiel saw people suffer from the virus, she recalled to a group at UMass Memorial Medical Center on Thursday, being intubated and hospitalized. Others didn’t survive.

Having mAb treatment, particularly for communities with less access to health care, is “truly incredible,” Castiel said.

Offered at no cost to patients, it’s the same kind of treatment former President Donald Trump received when he had the coronavirus last year.

“We do hope that as few patients as possible will need this facility, but if they do, we will be ready in Central Mass. for whatever turn COVID takes next,” said Michael Gustafson, the president of UMass Memorial Medical Center.

UMass Memorial offered its first treatment at its Hahnemann campus in Worcester on Wednesday and a second on Thursday. Patients must receive the treatment within 10 days of COVID symptom onset. The treatment is given through an IV for 30 minutes, and patients then stay an hour for observation.

The therapy is the first COVID treatment for outpatient use granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A Phase 3 clinical trial showed it reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by up to 87% in patients who received the treatment by IV compared to those who received a placebo, officials said.

Though millions of Massachusetts residents have been vaccinated, COVID case counts are starting to increase as the delta variant spreads.

Across Massachusetts, new coronavirus cases last week rose 46% over the week prior, according to data from the state Department of Public Health. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the delta variant now accounts for more than half of new cases that have been sequenced in the U.S.

“We expect given the spike, with the uptrend in the positive rates, we are expecting more patients to come in” for the mAb treatment, said UMass Memorial Dr. Sandeep Jubbal.

The therapy works by administering synthetic antibodies that are directed against the spike protein of the coronavirus. It neutralizes the virus that has not yet attached to the body, Jubbal said, and prevents progression to severe illness.

The infusion is mainly given to patients with mild to moderate disease, Jubbal said. It is not given to patients who require oxygen.

UMass Memorial said it will be able to treat up to 40 patients per week. Patients typically start to feel better 48 to 72 hours after the infusion, Jubbal said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in March announced it was investing $150 million to increase access to mAb therapy, particularly for patients in underserved and disadvantaged communities. The department, with support from KPMG, is developing new prototype models to expand access to the treatment.

“What we’re doing is we’re going around the country and going into communities where high-risk patients are and trying to work with local providers to give them the resources that they need to be able to deliver these life-saving treatments for patients who need it,” said S. Lawrence Kocot of KPMG. “This all started with President Trump getting this treatment and at that time they said ‘well the president can get this but no one else can.’

“This program is designed to bring this to everybody, so anybody who’s sick doesn’t need to go through the suffering, the families don’t have to go through the suffering,” Kocot continued. “This means people can get treated and hopefully stay out of the hospital.”

Part of the HHS effort, the site at UMass Memorial is one of seven across the country. There’s one other in Barnstable County in Massachusetts. Otherwise, sites are spread out in Landover, Maryland; San Diego, California; Detroit, Michigan; Houston, Texas; and Beckley, West Virginia.

Anyone who wants to find out if they are eligible for the treatment is asked to call 855-UMASS-MD. Treatments are offered from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The therapy will be available at UMass Memorial for at least three months, a timeline that could change with the progression of the pandemic, Jubbal said.

Through the pandemic, UMass Memorial has given more than 150,000 COVID-19 tests through the state’s Stop the Spread program, has treated more than 8,000 coronavirus patients and has administered 102,000 vaccine doses, Gustafson said.

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