Regeneron warns antibody cocktail may be less effective against Omicron

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Regeneron warned its popular antibody cocktail used to treat high-risk cases of COVID-19 may not be as effective against the new Omicron variant.

The New York-based pharmaceutical company said initial analyses indicate that “there may be reduced neutralization activity of both vaccine-induced and monoclonal antibody conveyed immunity.”

Regeneron — which markets REGEN-COV, the most widely used monoclonal antibody therapy to treat COVID-19 in the US — cautioned that further studies are needed to determine whether the Omicron variant can evade its therapies.

It also added that “preliminary analyses suggest” that other treatments it is developing could work against Omicron. Regeneron said it anticipates new data on the treatments sometime next month.

Shares of Regeneron were recently off 1.7 percent, at $642.85, in Tuesday morning trades.

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for monoclonal antibody cocktails to Regeneron, Eli Lilly, and GlaxoSmithKline.

GlaxoSmithKline, the producer of the sotrovimab monoclonal antibody treatment, told Barron’s that its treatment is “likely to maintain activity and potency” against Omicron. The pharmaceutical giant said that it is conducting lab tests in order to confirm its findings “as a matter of urgency.”

Eli Lilly said that it is conducting its own studies to determine just how effective its monoclonal antibody treatment, etesevimab, is in combating Omicron.

Shares of Lilly were down more than 5 points on Tuesday while GlaxoSmithKline’s stock gained about a quarter of a point.

The treatment entails giving patients infusions of high concentrations of antibodies that fight infection.

Lab technician holds vial with omicron marked on label
Regeneron said that additional treatments in progress could better fight off Omicron.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Monoclonal antibodies differ from vaccines, which are injected into the body and then trigger a natural immune response. It then takes the body weeks to build up enough antibodies to prevent serious infection.

Millions of Americans who have been hesitant to take the vaccine have expressed preference for monoclonal antibody treatment, though the therapy costs some $2,000 per dose.

In the third quarter, Regeneron reported $677 million in sales of its monoclonal antibody therapy — surpassing Wall Street estimates. The company’s treatment has accounted for 1 million of the 1.7 million doses of antibody therapies that have been administered in the US since mid-September, according to the federal government.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel spooked investors on Wall Street on Tuesday after he warned that current vaccines could be less effective against the Omicron strain.

“I think it’s going to be a material drop,” Bancel told the Financial Times on Tuesday. “I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data.”

Bancel added: “But all the scientists I’ve talked to…[say]: ‘This is not going to be good’.”

The comments triggered another sell-off on Wall Street — the second in the past three days of trading.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was recently off 453 points, or 1.3 percent, at 34,683 on Tuesday while the S&P 500 was also off 1.3 percent. The Nasdaq was recently off 1.2 percent.

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