COVID-19 News and Updates: January 2021 – #5

The drug that gives 'instant immunity' to coronavirus? UK trials new antibody therapy that can stop people who have been exposed to COVID becoming ill

Rachel Bunyan

(Dec. 26, 2020 – – A new antibody treatment with the potential to give people instant immunity after being exposed to Covid-19 and prevent illness is being trialled by scientists in the UK.

The drug would offer immediate and long-term protection to patients when it would be too late to offer a vaccine, potentially saving thousands of lives.

It could be given as an emergency treatment to hospital inpatients, care home residents and university students to help reduce the spread of the virus.

People who live with someone has caught COVID or been exposed to them could be injected with the drug to stop them becoming infected, even if they have not had a coronavirus vaccine.

British scientists from the University College London Hospitals NHS (UCLH) have already injected ten people with the drug as part of the new trial called Storm Chaser, with an aim to trial the new treatment on 1,125 people globally. The participants received two consecutive doses of the drug.

They hope the treatment would provide protection from Covid-19 for between six months to a year.

Scientists from the UCLH have also begun a second clinical trial named Provent, to examine the use of the antibody for people who may not benefit from vaccines, such as patients with a compromised immune system, or those at increased risk of Covid-19 infection due to factors such as age and existing conditions.

UCLH injected the ten people – including medical staff and university students – as part of the Storm Chaser trial at its new vaccine research centre after the study entered phase three trials on December 2.

Key groups of the trial include healthcare workers, students who live in shared accommodation and patients who have been recently exposed to anyone with Covid-19, as well as those in long-term care, the military and industry staff such as factory workers.

In the first trial, the antibody, known as AZD7442, has been developed by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which has also created a vaccine with Oxford University that is awaiting approval for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Meanwhile, older people and those in long-term care, as well as people with conditions such as cancer and HIV, will be recruited to take part in the Provent trial.

UCLH virologist Dr Catherine Houlihan, who is leading the Storm Chaser trial, said: ‘We know that this antibody combination can neutralise the virus, so we hope to find that giving this treatment via injection can lead to immediate protection against the development of Covid-19 in people who have been exposed – when it would be too late to offer a vaccine.’

Dr Houlihan said the treatment would be an ‘exciting addition’ to the efforts being tested and developed to fight corovavirus, reports The Guardian.

‘If we can prove that this treatment works and prevent people who are exposed to the virus going on to develop Covid-19, it would be an exciting addition to the arsenal of weapons being developed to fight this dreadful virus,’ she said.

UCLH infectious diseases consultant Dr Nicky Longley, who is leading the university’s portion of Provent, said: ‘We want to reassure anyone for whom a vaccine may not work that we can offer an alternative which is just as protective.’

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia and an expert in infectious diseases, said the new treatment in the Storm Chaser trial could save thousands of lives.

‘If you are dealing with outbreaks in settings such as care homes, or if you have got patients who are particularly at risk of getting severe Covid, such as the elderly, then this could well save a lot of lives. Providing it’s borne out in phase 3 trials, it could play a big role in keeping alive people who would otherwise die. So it should be a big thing,’ he said.

‘If you had an outbreak in a care home, you might want to use these sorts of cocktails of antibodies to bring the outbreak under control as soon as possible by giving the drug to everybody in the care home – residents and staff – who hasn’t been vaccinated.

‘Similarly, if you live with your elderly grandmother and you or someone else in the house gets infected, then you could give her this to protect her.’

The potential breakthrough in the instant immunity treatment is welcome news in the U.S. and across the globe as nearly 119,000 Americans spent Christmas Day in hospital with COVID-19 and 1,541 more deaths were recorded.

But according to the COVID Tracking Project, 20 states provided no update on their numbers on Friday, meaning the true number of deaths nationwide could be much higher.

While overall hospitalizations dropped to 118,948 on Friday after setting a new record of 120,151 the previous day, the seven-day average climbed to a new high yet again on Christmas Day, reaching 117,029.

On Friday, there were 124,498 new cases reported yet the COVID Tracking Project warned that data had been affected by the holiday closures.

Nationwide, there have been more than 18.7million Americans infected with coronavirus and 330,246 deaths.

Among the states that didn’t deliver any update on new cases and deaths on Friday was California, where the outbreak has already brought the healthcare system to breaking point, after reporting 300,000 new cases last week.

Earlier this week, it became the first state to surpass two million cases as experts remain concerned about a potential further spike caused by Christmas and New Year travelers.


Copyright © 2020 Associated Newspapers Ltd. Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group