Drugmakers are racing to develop a new generation of Covid-19 medicines to make them easier to give to patients and to stay ahead of virus mutations that could make some current drugs less effective.
The drugs, known as monoclonal antibodies, are lab-engineered versions of antibodies that simulate the body’s natural immune response to viruses. They are considered among the most promising for preventing infected patients from developing severe or fatal symptoms and keeping them out of the hospital. After catching Covid-19, President Trump was treated with one of the drugs and credited it with his speedy recovery. Doctors say the drugs will continue to be important treatments for the foreseeable future as vaccines become more widely available.
When the first generation of drugs were authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November to treat patients not yet sick enough to be hospitalized, public health officials worried that there wouldn’t be enough to go around. But those concerns have given way to frustration that the medicines are going unused because of challenges in administering the drugs, which can require about an hour of preparation time before the patient arrives, an hour-long infusion and one hour of monitoring to ensure patients don’t suffer allergic reactions.
To reduce the logistical burden and help get patients treated sooner, researchers are working on new antibody drugs that can be given with quick jabs in the arm, similar to flu shots. They would enable patients to get treated quickly after being diagnosed with Covid-19, said Michel C. Nussenzweig, an immunologist and professor at Rockefeller University in New York.
“That changes everything because you can go get that shot at CVS and go get that shot at your doctor’s office,” said Dr. Nussenzweig, whose lab developed an antibody combination that recently began initial Phase 1 safety studies. “Intravenous administration is a headache. It’s just a cumbersome thing to do.”