12 Hoosiers part of trial of COVID-19 drug given to President Trump

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Up to a dozen people in Indiana have received the same experimental cocktail of antibodies taken by President Trump as he fights the coronavirus.

It’s made by a company called Regeneron.

It could be a game-changer to fight the coronavirus, even as a vaccine is still a long way off. But Dr. Mark Bochan, the chair of infectious disease at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital, said it could provide a strategy.

St. Vincent is the only hospital group in the state providing the experimental Regeneron treatment. Some potential patients have turned it down because they aren’t assured of getting the antibodies, but Dr. Bochan said that’s the reason it makes the trial so much more significant.

“A fast-evolving problem that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen and I’ve been doing this 20 years,” he said.

But an experimental drug made by Regeneron could provide help for patients. So far, 12 Hoosiers have joined by a few hundred people around the world to test it out.

The treatment was given to President Donald Trump, who tested positive this week for COVID-19 and on Friday was taken by Marine One to a military hospital.

“He received perfect treatment,” said Dr. Bochan. “The idea is to identify rapidly and treat it as rapidly as you can. That’s exactly what we do in our hospital.”

Bochan said the concept is based on the drug treatment to fight Ebola, another SARS virus, which is why St. Vincent chose it over other drug trial possibilities back in March. The antibodies target a specific protein on the virus and neutralize it.

While 12 patients in five months may seem small, that’s not necessarily the case.

“It’s not just simply getting the drug and off you go,” Bochan said. “It’s getting the drug, monitor and then there’s a whole follow-up period, multiple lab draws.”

Patients also have a limited amount of time when they can qualify.

Because the trial is randomized, 1 in 3 patients won’t get the antibodies at all, just a placebo, a risk they have to agree to as part of the trial.

But it’s the scientific nature of the trial that makes it so important.

“It’s the only one that matters because you actually have a randomized sample and a control arm that is solid inside the study,” Bochan said.

Regeneron released its first data on Tuesday, showing positive results for the first 275 patients in the trial.

“I think it’s a really important release they had because what it suggests, the sooner you get it, the more effective it is,” Bochan said.

Still the work is just beginning.

Hundreds more patients are needed to confirm initial results.

But if that happens, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could authorize Regeneron to be used for emergency use, similar to Remdesivir.

“Right now, Remdesivir is one of our standard medications because it has emergency use behind it,” Dr. Bochan said. “We would hope that Regeneron trial or the Eli Lilly (and Co.) trial gets to the point in their interim analysis where the FDA says, ‘Hey, this is good stuff.'”

The half-life of Regeneron is 14-21 days, meaning it would not make a good long-term vaccine. But the way it works in neutralizing the coronavirus could provide help to vaccine developers.

The Lilly trial with a similar method of fighting the coronavirus should be ready for patients at Ascension St. Vincent within the next two weeks.