Written by Diana Tonnessen
A University of Florida Health pilot program will bring a new COVID-19 monoclonal antibody therapy to rural communities in North Florida during the coming weeks.
As part of the White House’s Operation Warp Speed initiative, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services selected UF Health and the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute to coordinate the distribution and administration of 1,000 doses of bamlanivimab, a monoclonal antibody therapy, to eligible residents in rural North Florida communities.
Antibodies are proteins that people’s bodies make to fight viruses, such as the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies made in a laboratory, called monoclonal antibodies, act like natural antibodies to limit the amount of virus in your body. Bamlanivimab contains man-made antibodies.
“The goal of the program is to make sure that people living in rural communities have access to the latest COVID-19 therapies and important health information about COVID-19 therapeutics, testing and vaccines,” said Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UF CTSI, who is leading the collaborative effort to coordinate UF Health’s distribution and administration of the treatments with community education and awareness.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for bamlanivimab on Nov. 10 after clinical trials showed it may help lessen the severity of the disease and reduce the need for hospitalization in people most at risk of developing severe COVID-19.
Bamlanivimab must be administered intravenously by a trained health care professional.
UF Health will offer the treatment free of charge to adults ages 65 and older within 10 days of a positive COVID-19 test, and to younger adults with obesity, diabetes, heart disease or other chronic health problems that increase their risk of developing severe disease or hospitalization. Patients hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 are not eligible to receive the treatment.
The pilot program, which will be offered in Columbia County and surrounding rural communities first and later expanded to other counties, has gained private support from the Sarasota-based Louis and Gloria Flanzer Philanthropic Trust with a $250,000 contribution. It is the second donation from the trust in the past nine months to help fund UF Health’s coronavirus response efforts.
Dean Hatuamaki, M.D., a trustee for the Flanzer Trust and a UF alumnus, praised UF’s leadership in making sure Floridians have the opportunity to help slow the virus.
“We are extremely proud to once again support the University of Florida — the state of Florida’s flagship university — and the UF Health academic medical center in their fight against the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic,” Hautamaki said. “It is vital that we deliver and administer throughout the state this effective early intervention treatment, especially to the underserved communities.”
The UF Health effort to coordinate the delivery and administration of the drug is being led by Michael Lauzardo, M.D., deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute; Nicole M. Iovine, M.D., Ph.D., chief epidemiology officer for UF Health Shands Hospital; Kartik Cherabuddi, M.D., an associate professor of infectious disease and global medicine in the UF College of Medicine; Marie-Carmelle Elie, M.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine; Amy Rosenberg, Pharm.D., assistant director for inpatient operations for UF Health Shands Hospital; and Martin D. Clemens, Pharm.D., coordinator of pharmacy resource utilization at UF Health Shands Hospital.
Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate dean for research in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, will lead community engagement efforts through the UF CTSI. Michael S. Gutter, Ph.D., associate dean for extension at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and Columbia County Extension Agent Halie Corbitt, will lead outreach and education efforts through the UF/IFAS county extension offices.
CommunityHealth IT, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting Florida residents with their community’s health services, resources and information, will provide transportation for patients who qualify.
On Friday, Feb. 5 from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time (EST), UF Health physicians and panelists from UF’s Community Engagement Program and the UF/IFAS Extension Program will hold a virtual town hall meeting to discuss COVID-19 vaccines and new treatments. Panelists will share information and address questions from participants. The event, sponsored by UF HealthStreet, can be accessed via Zoom at https://ufl.zoom.us/j/96324732254.