The Imperial Health Urgent Care Center in Moss Bluff is the only location in Louisiana that is involved in a nationwide experimental trial to identify a definitive medication that will quickly treat symptoms associated with COVID-19.
Dr. Jason Morris, director of the Moss Bluff Urgent Care Center, said on Wednesday that Eli Lilly, an Indiana-based pharmaceutical company, chose the center to take part in the trial just over a month after he and Sam Liprie, a clinical nuclear pharmacist at Clinical Trials of SWLA, applied. Eli Lilly is developing a potential treatment for COVID-19 using monoclonal antibodies that cleave off the virus from the host cells, essentially killing it.
"It could be a major breakthrough for everybody involved," Morris said.
Morris said the center was seen as a "blip on the screen" compared to the larger cities taking part in the study.
"When we got chosen, no one (at Eli Lilly) knew where Lake Charles was, much less Moss Bluff," he said.
Patients that test positive for COVID-19 and consent to the double-blind trial are given at random one of three doses of medication to treat their symptoms, or a placebo. Morris said 14 patients will be infused by today, with the goal being to test between 20 and 40 patients. The trial is seeking to test 400 patients nationwide, he said.
Morris said he won't know what kind of dose a patient received, or if the placebo was given, until after an 85-day observation period. Patients who received an infusion on July 17 are already recovering, Morris said.
"Basically, all of them are back to normal," he said, noting that some are still experiencing mild fatigue. "I'm assuming they got the medication because they rebounded so quickly."
Patients who were exposed to someone who was confirmed to have COVID-19 and show symptoms consistent with the virus are tested at the clinic. There are two testing options: a free rapid nasal antigen swab associated with the trial, or a PCR swab.
Patients that want the rapid nasal antigen swab must sign a consent form, saying they will think about taking part in the trial if they test positive for COVID-19. Morris said patients that take the PCR test can also participate in the study.
Patients that test positive for COVID-19 and choose to participate in the treatment trial are given an IV infusion within 72 hours of a confirmed positive test.
The day of the infusion, a patient fills out more paperwork and signs a consent form, along with providing additional blood work and another nasal swab. Once the consent form is signed, Liprie plugs a patient's information into a computer program associated with the study. He then gets a code that details which medications to mix, or placebo, for the patient. The treatment is sent to the center within 30 minutes.
The IV infusion takes about an hour, and patients are monitored for any adverse reactions. A patient's vital signs are observed for another two hours to ensure no complications, Morris said. He compared potential side effects as being similar to the ones experienced when receiving normal saline from an IV.
"Monoclonal antibodies are really safe," he said.
Once a patient is sent home, Morris conducts four follow-up visits in the first week, via telehealth or a phone call. A home health nurse also makes several visits to take additional nasal swabs and blood tests.
"Most everything is done in the first 2-3 weeks," Morris said.
Patients also fill out a daily questionnaire, which is turned into the center at the end of the 85-day period. Patients aren't charged for the rapid nasal test and are compensated $800 for taking part in the study.
Morris said Eli Lily has acknowledged the Moss Bluff center's swift rolling out of the trial. He said Liprie's knowledge of the research industry, along with the reputation Liprie and Morris' center have, were instrumental in being chosen to take part in the study.
A treatment for COVID-19, coupled with a proven vaccine, would offer a "two-pronged attack" against the virus, Morris said. However, COVID-19 doesn't appear to be going away, he said.
"We're not sure if there's ever going to be an eradication of it," Morris said. "It is probably going to be a seasonal viral infection."
Infusions are given at the center Monday through Friday, except Tuesdays. Morris said the infusions will likely be expanded to include weekends.
Those interested in taking part in the trial can call the Imperial Health Urgent Care Center in Moss Bluff at 217-7762. Walk-ins are accepted.