AstraZeneca’s antibody therapy prevents COVID-19, study shows

FILE PHOTO: Exterior photos of the North America headquarters of AstraZeneca
FILE PHOTO: The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., March 22, 2021. REUTERS/Rachel Wisniewski/File Photo

AstraZeneca’s new antibody therapy reduced the risk of people developing COVID-19 symptoms by 77% in a late-stage trial, putting the drugmaker on track to offer protection to those who respond poorly to vaccines.

The company said on Friday that 75% of the participants in the trial for the therapy – two types of antibodies discovered by Vanderbilt University Medical Center – had chronic conditions including some with a lower immune response to vaccinations.

Similar therapies made with a drug class called monoclonal antibodies which mimic naturally occurring immune system proteins are being developed by Regeneron, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline with partner Vir.

But AstraZeneca is the first to publish positive COVID prevention data from an antibody trial.

The good news on the therapy was tempered, however, by a separate AstraZeneca statement on Friday.

It said a trial of a treatment for the rare neurological disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), developed by AstraZeneca’s newly acquired Alexion, had been stopped early due to a lack of efficacy.

AstraZeneca executive Mene Pangalos said the therapy trial results were taken three months after the antibodies were injected and investigators would follow up as far out as 15 months in the hope the company can tout the shot as a year-long shield.

Pangalos signalled that the prospects of a new COVID-19 product in AstraZeneca’s medicine cabinet could also enhance the strategic value of its existing vaccine Vaxzevria, which it developed in collaboration with Oxford University.

“No other company has delivered two molecules against SARS-CoV2. This definitely helps us in positioning us in terms of COVID,” Pangalos told Reuters. SARS-CoV2 is the scientific name for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Another leading AstraZeneca executive, Ruud Dobber, had said last month that different strategic options were being explored for AstraZeneca’s vaccine operations, which have faced a string of challenges.

Approval targets

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker has suffered production problems during the rollout of Vaxzevria while very rare cases of blood clotting have weighed heavily on demand for the shot in Europe. The vaccine has also yet to win clearance in the United States.

Concerns over the new Delta variant and waning vaccine efficacy have prompted several high-income countries to offer a third vaccine shot on top of the usual two-shot regimen to the immunocompromised and other groups at risk.

The immunocompromised, such as those with organ transplants or in cancer care, make up about 2% of the population and would be the main target group for the new therapy. Naval forces on missions could also benefit, among others, Pangalos said.

Even though only 12% to 13% of the trial volunteers were vaccinated when the therapy trial data was generated, AstraZeneca will seek to position the shot as a top-up to previous inoculations.

Pangalos said AstraZeneca was targeting conditional approval in major markets for the therapy well before year-end and that roughly 1 to 2 million doses would be produced by then.

Any bulk supply contracts would prompt the company to boost production, with one or two manufacturing sites at as-yet undisclosed locations serving world demand, he said.