A vial of Regeneron monoclonal antibody sits on a medical table as registered nurse Jessica Krumwiede attempts to find a vein to administer it to Cathy Hardin, who was vaccinated prior to testing positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Sarasota Memorial Urgent Care Center in Sarasota, Florida, U.S., September 23, 2021.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is developing new antibodies that work against the omicron variant of Covid-19, after the company confirmed that its current cocktail has diminished potency against the heavily mutated strain.
CEO Leonard Schleifer told CNBC on Thursday that Regeneron plans to conduct trials on the new antibodies in the first quarter of 2022. Schleifer said Regeneron is working with the Food and Drug Administration to get the next generation of antibodies approved as efficiently as possible.
“I think we need to figure out a way that we can get this to patients on a large scale before the next variant shows up,” Schleifer said during an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “We just don’t want to be chasing our tail here.”
The current antibody cocktail is still effective against delta, Schleifer said. Hospitals from the Great Lakes to the Northeast are currently overwhelmed by a wave of delta infections. Public health officials are concerned that the health-care system will soon be hit by a wave of omicron and flu infection as well as the U.S. enters the winter season.
Effective antibody treatments could play a key role in reducing hospitalizations and relieving stress on the health-care system.
“It’s possible that delta will surge, the flu surge, and so will omicron,” Schleifer said. “So we’re going to need a full full toolkit here.”
Regeneron’s antibody cocktail is administered through intravenous infusion. The cocktail targets the spike protein of the virus, blocking its ability to invade human cells. The spike protein has undergone significant mutation over the course of the pandemic. The omicron variant has more than 30 mutations to the spike.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday that omicron currently makes up about 3% of Covid cases in the U.S. However, Walensky said the CDC estimates that the variant represents up to 13% of Covid cases in New York and New Jersey. The World Health Organization on Tuesday said omicron is spreading faster than any previous variant.
A study by Dr. David Ho at Columbia and a team of scientists found that all four antibody cocktails currently in clinical use were hit hard by omicron, “likely abolishing or impairing their efficacy.” The study was published as pre-print, which means it has not yet been peer reviewed.
Pfizer and Merck are developing oral antiviral pills designed to prevent hospitalization from Covid. Pfizer, in a final analysis, said its pill was nearly 90% effective at preventing hospitalizations. Merck’s pill reduced hospitalizations by about 30% in its clinical trial. Both companies have submitted applications for the FDA to authorize the treatments on an emergency basis.