Covid-19 Antibody Race Heats Up

The race to find successful antibody treatments against Covid-19 is heating up asGlaxoSmithKline Plc andVir Biotechnology Inc. start human trials to evaluate a potential drug that could be available as soon as the first half of next year.

The therapy is advancing directly to the middle and final stages of clinical tests with a study that began last week, the companies said in a statement Monday. The trials will involve 1,300 high-risk patients from across the globe and focus on preventing hospitalization for people with early or mild coronavirus symptoms, with initial results possible before year-end.

Glaxo and Vir are among a number of drugmakers seeking to fight, or even prevent, Covid-19 with monoclonal antibodies, which aim to mimic the body’s natural immune response. Such treatments could provide a short-term solution before a vaccine becomes available, and may also be necessary for older or more vulnerable people who don’t respond as well to a shot.

AstraZeneca Plc also saidlast week it had started human trials for a combination of two antibodies, while early data from a pair ofantibodies being tested by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are due in September. Eli Lilly & Co.started final-stage trials for its drug in U.S. nursing homes this month.

A successful treatment could bypass the need for the body to produce its own antibodies, which is especially important in the absence of an effective vaccine, said Hal Barron, Glaxo’s head of research. The companies are also planning further studies looking at preventing infection and treating more seriously ill hospitalized patients.

“A vaccine is incredibly important for the impact it can have at scale,” Barron said in an interview. “But we do believe this monoclonal antibody in particular is unique and that the class in general will potentially play a very important role in this pandemic.”

Glaxo and Vir, which signed a$250 million Covid-19 pact in April, are also looking at potential vaccines for the disease, as well as treatments and shots for other coronaviruses. A mid-stage trial for a second antibody treatment that could also act as a prophylactic T cell vaccine is due to start later this year.

“The need for these antibodies is likely to be so large that no one company will be able to provide it all,” George Scangos, Vir’s chief executive officer, said in an interview.

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