UK Approves Covid Antibody Treatment That’s Likely Effective Against Omicron—Here’s What To Know

Topline

British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline said Thursday its Covid-19 antibody treatment, approved in the U.K. Thursday, appears to be effective against the omicron variant of coronavirus, according to early data from laboratory studies, as fears grow over whether existing treatments and vaccines are less potent against the highly-mutated variant.  

Key Facts

Lab tests and a study on hamsters—commonly used to model human respiratory diseases—suggest sotrovimab, the antibody Covid-19 treatment developed by GSK and Vir Biotechnology, is still effective against the omicron variant, GSK said in a statement. 

Sotrovimab “retains activity against key mutations” of the new variant, GSK said, and tests are underway to ensure the antibody therapy is still effective against all omicron mutations.

An update will be provided by the end of the year, GSK said. 

The announcement comes as the U.K. approved sotrovimab, marketed as Xevudy, for use in patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19 at risk of severe illness. 

The U.K.’s drugs regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said a clinical trial showed a single dose of the treatment reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death by 79% in high-risk adults with symptomatic Covid-19 infection and was most effective when taken soon after the onset of symptoms. 

The agency said it will work with GSK and Vir to establish the antibody treatment’s effectiveness against omicron. 

Crucial Quote

George Scangos, Vir chief executive, said sotrovimab was “designed with a mutating virus in mind,” targeting a part of the virus’ spike protein that is less likely to mutate. Scangos said he thought future variants of coronavirus “would be inevitable” and that he is confident the treatment will work against “the full combination” of mutations of omicron. 

Key Background

The World Health Organization designated omicron, or B.1.1.529, a variant of concern last week after researchers in South Africa sounded the alarm over a highly mutated form of the virus. Experts fear the unusually high number of mutations—many of which are on the virus’ spike protein, which many widely-used vaccines train the immune system to recognize—could make the strain more transmissible and render our weapons against the virus less effective. Diminished vaccine efficacy is a major concern worldwide and major producers are all investigating the variant. Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna are already preparing to remake their widely-used shots. Regeneron, which produces another antibody therapy for Covid-19, said it was undertaking further testing after early data indicated the treatment was less effective against omicron. 

What To Watch For

The U.K. government and National Health Service (NHS) have not yet outlined how the treatment will be deployed to patients. The MHRA said this will happen in “due course.” The agency approved the treatment for use in individuals ages 12 and up who weigh more than 40kg, have mild-to-moderate Covid-19 and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness, including obesity, older age (over 60), diabetes mellitus or heart disease.

Further Reading

Regeneron Is Testing Its Antibody Therapy Against Omicron Variant (Bloomberg)

UK approves another antibody treatment for Covid (BBC)

Covid-19 ‘Is Not Done With Us’: WHO Leader Urges Vaccine Equity Over Boosters Amid ‘Very High’ Risk Of Omicron Spreading Internationally (Forbes)

WHO Says Delta, Boosting Vaccination Still Agency’s ‘Priority’ As First Cases Of Omicron Variant Detected In North America, Scotland (Forbes)

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