Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is developing new antibodies to work against the Omicron variant of Covid-19 after the company confirmed that its current cocktail has decreased effectiveness against the heavily mutated strain.
CEO Leonard Schleifer told CNBC on Thursday that Regeneron plans to conduct studies with the new antibodies in the first quarter of 2022. Schleifer said Regeneron is working with the Food and Drug Administration to make the next generation of antibodies as efficient as possible.
“I think we have to find a way to get this to patients on a large scale before the next variant shows up,” said Schleifer during an appearance at CNBC’s Squawk Box. “We just don’t want to chase our tails here.”
The current antibody cocktail is still effective against Delta, said Schleifer. A wave of delta infections is currently overwhelming hospitals from the Great Lakes to the Northeast. Public health officials fear a wave of omicrones and flu infections will soon hit the healthcare system as the US enters the winter season.
Effective antibody treatments could play a key role in reducing hospital stays and easing the burden on the health system.
“It is possible that Delta, the flu and Omicron will go up,” said Schleifer. “So we’re going to need a full toolkit here.”
Regeneron’s antibody cocktail is administered by intravenous infusion. The cocktail targets the virus’ spike protein, blocking its ability to enter human cells. The spike protein has undergone a significant mutation over the course of the pandemic. The Omicron variant has more than 30 mutations to the spike.
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that Omicron currently accounts for about 3% of Covid cases in the U.S. However, Walensky said the CDC estimates the variant accounts for up to 13% of Covid cases in New York and New York Jersey. The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that Omicron is spreading faster than any previous variant.
A study by Dr. Columbia’s David Ho and a team of scientists found that all four of Omicron’s antibody cocktails currently in clinical use have been hit hard, “likely to compromise or compromise their effectiveness.” The study was published as a pre-print, ie it has not yet been reviewed by experts.
Pfizer and Merck are developing oral antiviral pills to prevent hospitalization from Covid. Pfizer concluded that his pill was nearly 90% effective at preventing hospital stays. Merck’s pill reduced hospital admissions by about 30% in its clinical trial. Both companies have filed with the FDA to approve the emergency treatments.