New Treatment Shows Huge Promise For Decreasing COVID Symptom– Are Monoclonal Antibodies An Option for Cancer Patients?

Published Jan 21, 2021

Dr. James Taylor

Monoclonal Antibodies: What to Know

  • A new study claims to demonstrate that monoclonal antibodies reduce the severe symptoms of COVID-19 and the risk of death.
  • The full data from the study has not been released, but the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly says says up to 80% of people saw a reduction in severe symptoms.
  • While this is not a replacement for a vaccine, experts tell SurvivorNet that the results could mean a promising option for outbreaks, or un-vaccinated populations.

If you’re a cancer patient who is worried about getting COVID-19, there may be a new treatment option that decreases symptoms and significantly increases the likelihood you’ll get over the disease. The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly says it has found that a type of drug called a monoclonal antibody reduced infections in more than half of COVID positive patients. In nursing home residents who received the drug, 80% of patients saw their symptoms reduced, according Lilly.

“The use of COVID specific antibodies for high risk patients who are COVID positive is a major step forward, says Dr. Sagar Lonial, Chair Department of Hematology and  Medical Oncology at Emory University.  “To date, we have had limited options to treat the actual infection as steroids really only address the immune response but not the infection itself. The key for this getting more uptake is treating  high risk patients who are covid positive before they are too sick, and thus preventing the development of a serious infection.”

Eli Lilly has yet to release the full data from the trial, which is an important step to verifying, and ultimately replicating, these results.

What Is a Monoclonal Antibody?

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses. Drugs that are built on monoclonal antibodies are versatile and are used to treat many diseases from arthritis to cancer.

Related: What Is Monoclonal Antibody Treatment? Already Used for Cancer, Some Want to Use It for COVID-19

Monoclonal Antibody: The Basics

  •  Antibodies are proteins or molecules that cells in your body create and are used to flag and neutralize foreign substances such as bacteria, viruses and even cancer. Think of them as molecules that hunt down bad actors and help remove them from the body.
  • Next, it’s good to know what monoclonal means. This is a big term that simply means “all the same.” In other words, it is like making 1,000 photocopies of a picture. All of the copies will be identical to the picture that was placed in the copy machine. Another way to describe this is that all of the pictures are “clones” of the original and have the same characteristics and function.

Should Initial Treatment Include Monoclonal Antibodies?

  • Putting this together the term monoclonal antibody simply is an antibody that is created in a lab and then duplicated over millions of times. Each antibody in this process, just like with a photocopied picture, is the exact same and is a clone of all the others. Simply, they are all identical molecules that should behave the same way when used to treat a disease.

How Monoclonal Antibodies Treat So Many Diseases

  • In cancer, researchers design these antibodies to attack specific aspects of cancer cells. They then duplicate (or clone) these antibodies and give them to a patient. Because every antibody is the same and designed to attack something that is only on a cancer cell the goal is that all of the antibodies will behave in the same way — and only attack the cancer cell.


  • In other diseases, doctors create the antibodies in a similar manner to target aspects of a condition that can be improved, such as inflammatory cells in Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • New research indicates that the monoclonal antibody Bamlanivimab, which is designed to seek out the virus responsible for COVID-19, may be effective in reducing the risk of symptomatic infection from COVID-19. This medication has already shown promise when given to patients who are COVID-19 positive and high risk for complications before they become sick and require hospitalization.

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