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Two Leading Antibody Drugs May Be No Match For Omicron Variant

Two Leading Antibody Drugs May Be No Match For Omicron Variant

For more than a year antibody drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly have been the go-to treatments for early COVID-19, thanks to their ability to head off severe disease and keep patients out of the hospital. But as overwhelmed U.S. hospitals brace for a new surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, doctors are warning of yet another challenge: those two drugs they’ve used to fight infections are “unlikely” to work against the new strain.

Both drugmakers recently warned that internal laboratory testing suggested their antibody therapies would be much less potent against omicron, which contains dozens of mutations that make it harder for antibodies to attack the virus. And while the companies say they can quickly develop new Omicron-targeting antibodies, those aren’t expected to launch for at least several months.

 

The Delta variant still accounts for more than 95% of estimated U.S. cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the current antibody treatments can still be effective in those cases. But agency leaders say Omicron is spreading faster than any past variant and will become the dominant strain nationwide within weeks.

British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, makers of a third antibody regimen, appears to be the best positioned to fight Omicron. But Glaxo’s drug is not widely available in the U.S., accounting for just a small portion of the millions of doses purchased and distributed by the federal government. U.S. health officials are now rationing scarce drug supplies to states.

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The potential loss of the two leading antibody therapies puts even more focus on a pair of highly anticipated antiviral pills that U.S. regulators are expected to soon authorize. The drugs from Pfizer and Merck would be the first treatments Americans can take at home to head off severe diseases including Covid. Pfizer’s drug in particular has shown a powerful effect, curbing hospitalizations and deaths by nearly 90% in high-risk patients.

 

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