Regeneron antibody therapy loses steam against Omicron

Regeneron antibody therapy loses steam against Omicron

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. said its COVID-19 antibody treatment has "decreased potency" against the Omicron variant, but other experimental antibodies in its pipeline remain active against the variant.

The antibody cocktail remains active against delta, which remains the dominant mutation in the United States, and other variants of concern, the Tarrytown, New York-based drugmaker said in an emailed statement Thursday.

Regeneron is seeking to put more of its monoclonal antibodies into clinical trials in the first quarter of 2022, if cleared by regulators. "If Omicron starts to ramp up, we need antibodies that work," CEO Leonard Schleifer said in an interview on CNBC. "We're going to need a whole set of tools here."

Regeneron is part of a group of pharmaceutical companies that have developed monoclonal antibodies – artificial versions of the antibodies produced by the body – to combat covid-19. Regeneron's cocktail and a rival product from Eli Lilly & Co. are licensed for patients who are at high risk of developing more severe disease.

Virologists and infectious disease experts have raised concerns that current monoclonal antibodies are unlikely to work well against the Omicron variant given the way the treatments target the spike protein, a part of the virus that has experienced a significant amount of mutations. Preliminary laboratory data has suggested that more than a dozen of these therapies have lost their potency against Omicron.

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Nicole Kallewaard, a virologist and research adviser to Lilly, said the company will report new data on the performance of its Omicron antibody cocktail this week or early next.

"If it's a major reduction in activity, as we've seen before with other viral variants, it's easy to say there's probably going to be some kind of impact on clinical efficacy," she said. Lilly is also testing other antibodies in its repertoire for activity against omicron, "just to keep on hand," Kallewaard said.

Others may not have to search for new antibodies. UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc announced on Thursday that its Covid-19 antibody therapy maintained neutralizing activity against the Omicron variant in laboratory tests.

While still experimental in the US, Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co.'s Covid pills target the same high-risk patients as antibodies. They are cheaper and easier to administer and are expected to become the treatment of choice in the coming year.

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