Preliminary tests show antibody treatments less effective against omicron variant

Tracking Coronavirus

FILE – James Robson, a biomedical engineering graduate student, holds a swab and specimen vial in the new COVID-19, on-campus testing lab, Thursday, July 23, 2020, at Boston University in Boston. The United States has improved its surveillance system for tracking new coronavirus variants such as omicron, boosting its capacity by tens of thousands of samples since early 2021. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — There’s concern in the medical community that antibody drug cocktails for COVID-19 will not be as effective against the omicron variant. Doctors at the University of Kansas Health System say it’s too early to know which tools will be available to them.

Antibody drug cocktails have been an important therapy for COVID-19 victims in the United States. Antibody treatments are lab-based molecules derived from survivors of COVID-19. They are the only drugs authorized for patients before they are hospitalized.

Doctors have been relying on antibody treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly to keep people out of the hospital. Those treatments may need to be modified if the Omicron variant becomes widespread here.

“If you remember early on, Eli Lilly, when alpha was circulating, Eli Lilly was pulled, their authorization was pulled because it did not work,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, infectious diseases director at University of Kansas Health System. “However, when delta came back they found that you actually have activity with those monoclonal antibodies. So this could be a shifting thing as well.”

Researchers say other treatments may hold up well against omicron because they attack elements of the virus that have not changed in the variant. Antiviral drugs, including new pills from Merck and Pfizer, appear to be unaffected by omicron, according to researchers, because they target a different part of the virus that has not mutated yet.

Doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital say they remain confident there will be treatment options available should the omicron variant become widespread in the metro area.

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