Henry Ford hospitals offering monoclonal antibodies to curb COVID-19 admissions

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

The Henry Ford Health System is receiving additional supplies of monoclonal antibodies from the federal government in an effort to hold down COVID-19 hospitalizations that are threatening to overwhelm Detroit area hospitals, the Detroit-based system said Thursday.

Monoclonal antibodies are manmade proteins that mimic real antibodies produced by the body and can help neutralize the coronavirus or keep it from adhering to cells. The treatment is administered intravenously and will be provided at three Henry Ford hospitals, including two in Metro Detroit. 

If administered within 10 days of the onset of symptoms after a positive COVID-19 test, the one-time therapy can prevent symptoms from worsening. Former President Donald Trump and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were treated with monoclonal antibodies developed by Regeneron and Eli Lilly while the products were still in clinical trials.

A Henry Ford Health System worker gives a shot of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Beverly Beasley of Detroit. The Detroit-based system is going to be expanding its use of monoclonal antibodies to prevent hospitalizations.

Dr. Adnan Munkarah, chief clinical officer of Henry Ford Health System, endorsed monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 patients with chronic conditions.

"We've conducted more than 800 monoclonal antibody infusions at our six hospitals," Munkarah said. "It reduces hospitalization time, the risk of developing severe symptoms and dying, therefore easing the burden on caregivers and hospitals."

Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the five-hospital health system will receive an adequate supply to open a new monoclonal antibody infusion center in Southwest Detroit and expand use of the treatment at its three of its hospitals catering to underserved communities — Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Clinton Township and Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson. 

It's a "timely partnership," said medical supply chain expert Tinglong Dai, an associate professor of operations management and business analytics at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.

"Despite the potential of monoclonal antibodies in reducing COVID hospitalizations, they have been severely underutilized due to a variety of factors. Engaging providers is definitely the way to go," Dai said. 

"The partnership is timely and urgently needed given that we could have used all of our tools to bring the pandemic to a swift end."

Clinical trial found the treatment not to be effective on patients who were already hospitalized, but were extremely effective at preventing serious illness if given to COVID-19 patients early in the disease.

The federal Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization in November.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a Wednesday press conference the expanded use of therapeutic treatments like monoclonal antibodies, combined with the public's compliance with safety measure like mask wearing, can keep the state from needing to shut down to control the virus. 

"That’s precisely why instead of mandating that we’re closing things down, we are encouraging people to do what we know works," Whitmer said. "That’s the most important thing that we can do. It’s not the policy problem. It’s a variant and compliance problem."


Twitter: @kbouffardDN

Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.