An antibody cocktail that gives immediate protection against Covid-19 and could bring cruise ship and care home outbreaks to a halt, is being trialled in Britain.
The treatment was developed by pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca from antibodies found in the blood of a patient who survived the virus.
Unlike a vaccine, which takes around six weeks for the body to develop immunity, the antibodies are able to fight the virus straight away and may last for a year.
The British Government hopes the treatment could protect hundreds of thousands of people who cannot be vaccinated because their immune systems are compromised.
It could also be used to prevent vulnerable patients catching Covid in hospitals and care homes, or be issued quickly to cruise ship passengers and crew, should a traveller test positive.
The first trial participant was due to be given the drug today at North Manchester General Hospital, and results are expected in the spring.
Describing how the drug could be used, Mene Pangalos, the executive vice-president, biopharmaceuticals R&D, at AstraZeneca, said: “So, imagine a cruise ship that has an outbreak where half the people have been vaccinated and half haven’t because of access to the vaccine. You’d be able to go and immunise the whole cruise ship with this antibody and everyone will be protected straight away.
“Or where there has been a case confirmed in a care home, you will go and immunise everybody to protect them from progressing on with the disease, or in a hospital or a school.”
Kate Bingham, the British Government’s Vaccine Taskforce chairman, said the cocktail could give front-line workers immediate protection. “It will work instantly, so there may be examples of the military or healthcare workers or people that need immediate protection, and you could use this antibody cocktail, as opposed to waiting,” she said.
The team at AstraZeneca screened thousands of antibodies to find the most effective at fighting Covid-19, and eventually used two types from a survivor of the disease who had mounted an extremely potent immune response.
The cocktail will not be rolled out to a large proportion of the population, though, because it is far more expensive and difficult to make than vaccines. While a vaccine costs just a few euro, a dose of antibodies can cost hundreds.
Phase 3 trials on 1,000 volunteers are taking place at nine sites across Britain but the team is planning to recruit a further 4,000 participants globally. The researchers are urgently calling on more people to volunteer. (© Daily Telegraph London)