Mark McClellan

Nursing homes could remain a proving ground for valuable COVID-19 therapeutics, former CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., said during a recent technology conference.

Nursing homes were key trial sites last year as drugmakers developed various monoclonal antibody treatments, and they continue to play a role as drugmakers tweak infused formulations into injectables and an oral dose that McClellan said could be a “few months off.”

“We’re going to see some more progress on the monoclonal antibodies. They really work,” said at the LeadingAge CAST 2021 Collaborative Care Health IT & Innovations Summit Wednesday. 

McClellan, director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, gave a wide-ranging presentation entitled, “Responding to the Pandemic: Lessons Learned and Implications for Technology.” In it, he bemoaned the delayed use of surveillance and hesitancy to implement trial and testing strategies more quickly in the U.S.

He said key clinical trial networks have emerged during the pandemic, especially among seniors, who were especially vulnerable to the coronavirus and needed therapeutic options. But many of the places they live have become less appealing research sites with the effects of widespread vaccination.

“The challenge now is, fortunately, we’re getting the infection rates way, way down,” McClellan said. “What I really want to see is an easy way to engage nursing homes and other facilities involved in taking care of high-risk patients in doing these trials much more quickly the next time — not a year later. There are lots of lessons for other (drug and therapeutic) candidates.”

His comments come as vaccine booster development continues. Other experts are warning that emerging variants will create a “window of susceptibility,” during which COVID treatments will be needed to limit the risk of virus-related death.

No booster has been approved yet, and the process could stretch to 12 months, a period during which epidemiologists expect immunity will begin to wane among the earliest vaccinated Americans.
“You’re always going to have this window of susceptibility where if you don’t have therapeutics that can protect people, you’re going to have people dying of COVID,” Jonathan Javitt, M.D., CEO of NRx and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told Fox News. “We need to constantly be surveilling for these new variants and we need to be developing Covid therapeutics that will rescue people who get Covid even in the face of the vaccination programs.”