Meritus designated for emergency use of COVID-19 treatment

Meritus Medical Center is now a regional infusion center where some COVID-19 patients can be treated with the antibody bamlanivimab.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of the antibody to treat some adults with mild to moderate cases of the disease, as well as youths who are least 12 years old and at risk of progressing to more severe stages of COVID-19.

The Maryland Department of Health designated Meritus as a regional infusion center for Allegany, Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties. There are three other regional centers in the state.

"We are good to go starting today. ... My feeling is we will probably get busy fast," Dr. Shaheen Iqbal, chief medical officer at Meritus, said Monday morning.

Maulik Joshi, president and CEO of Meritus Health, said the hospital has created a separate infusion center for the bamlanivimab treatments. The new center can handle 27 patients a day.

"I would be surprised if we weren't full in a week or two," Joshi said.

According to the FDA's emergency use authorization, bamlanivimab, made by Eli Lilly and Co., is only authorized for patients who meet specific criteria. It is not to be used for patients who are already in the hospital or who are on oxygen therapy because of COVID-19.

The patient does not have to live in Maryland to be referred to the new center, Joshi said, as long as the referring physician's office is in the state.

Bamlanivimab is a monoclonal antibody, Iqbal said, meaning it is a human-made agent that works against one specific antigen.

The treatment works by targeting the now-familiar spikes that are shown on images of the coronavirus, Iqbal said.

"Those are spike proteins on the virus. ... (The antibody) attaches to the spike protein. It interferes with the virus entering the cell and damaging the cell," Iqbal said.

The new infusion center will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

The drug is administered through an IV drip, the doctor said.

"It's a one-time dose. It will take one hour to infuse, and after that, one hour for observation," Iqbal said.

The patient can then go home.