WHO ‘strongly warns’ against use of two COVID-19 treatments

A woman holds a small bottle labeled “COVID-19 vaccine” and a medical syringe in this illustration taken on October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Rovich

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LONDON (Reuters) – The World Health Organization is no longer recommending two antibody treatments for the emerging coronavirus (Covid-19), on the grounds that Omicron and its newer branches have rendered them obsolete.

The two treatments — designed to work by binding to the skeletal protein of SARS-CoV-2 to neutralize the virus’s ability to infect cells — were among the first drugs developed early in the pandemic.

The virus has since evolved, and mounting evidence from lab tests indicates that the two treatments – sotrovimab as well as casirivimab-imdevimab – have limited clinical activity against the latest iterations of the virus. As a result, they also lost their fortunes with the US health regulator.

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WHO experts said Thursday they had strongly advised against using the two treatments for patients with COVID-19, reversing previous conditional recommendations that had supported them, as part of a set of recommendations published in the British Medical Journal.

GSK (GSK.L) and partner Vir Biotechnology (VIR.O) sotrovimab – which generated billions in sales and became one of Britain’s best-selling drugmakers last year – have been pulled from the US market by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April. Read more

Penny Ward, visiting professor of pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, said that given that the United States began to question the clinical efficacy of sotrofimab against Omicron as early as February, the WHO’s realization is a bit late.

“The WHO has now made that recommendation, and it will be interesting to see how many other countries are in line with it,” she said.

Regeneron and partner Roche’s (ROG.S) antibody cocktail casirivimab-imdevimab also generated billions in sales and was one of the US drugmaker’s biggest sellers last year.

Back in January, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised its position on the treatment, limiting its use to a smaller group of patients, citing its diminishing potency against the Omicron variant.

Both treatments are still recommended for use by the European Medicines Regulator.

Another treatment for COVID that emerged early in the pandemic is the antiviral Gilead (GILD.O) Remdesivir. The World Health Organization has expanded its conditional recommendation for the drug, stating that it can be used in patients with severe COVID as well as non-severe COVID patients at risk of hospitalization.

There are a few current COVID treatments that are still useful in fighting the virus, and others in development that are expected to benefit patients as well.

(This story is corrected to clarify that the World Health Organization has extended the conditional use of remdesivir to severe COVID patients in paragraph 11)

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(covering by Natalie Grover in London). Editing by Eileen Hardcastle

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