The great hope for drug treatments against Covid-19 – the monoclonal antibodies – are failing against variants of the virus, such as those that have emerged in South Africa and Brazil, scientists have found.
There have been high expectations of the drugs. One, made by Regeneron in the United States, was given to Donald Trump and may have played a part in his recovery. It is being trialled in hospital patients in the UK.
But to the dismay of those who work on therapies against the disease, all three leading contenders – Regeneron’s, and drugs from Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline – fail against one or more of the variants.
The antibodies have huge advantages as treatments, said Nick Cammack, who leads the Covid-19 therapeutics accelerator at Wellcome. They are derived from cloning a human white blood cell and mimic the effects of the immune system. They are very safe, specifically engineered to target the virus and their use looked highly promising in the early stage of disease to stop it progressing.
“So basically, most of the front-running antibody therapies for Covid which are the front-running therapies for Covid, I should say – so the great hope – are lost to the South African and Brazilian variants.”
GlaxoSmithKline’s treatment still works against those variants, but not against the one that emerged in Kent in the UK. But with the coronavirus mutating as much as it has done already, Cammack does not expect any of the current drugs to to be effective for long.
Researchers now need to find “conserved” regions of the virus that do not mutate to target with antibodies. “I think it’s pretty clear, whilst we’ve seen South Africa, UK and Brazil variants, there will be others. And we need mass sequencing, genetic sequencing of the virus around the world, which will reveal where the changes are made and also reveal where conserved regions are,” he said.
Image Credit: Riccardo Antimiani/EPA
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