These COVID Therapies Appear to Be the Best and Worst at Treating New Variants

Results were recently announced from a pre-clinical study comparing several of the leading COVID-19 antibody therapies. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on June 23, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli discuss which drugmakers were the biggest winners and losers in this comparison.

Keith Speights: COVID-19 vaccines aren’t the only story in COVID-19 news. There are also some results from a new pre-clinical study in animal testing where several leading monoclonal antibody therapies have been tested against new coronavirus variants.

Which of these therapies in this pre-clinical study do you think appear to be the best and the worst? Should investors make much of this data at all since we’re only talking about pre-clinical testing here?

Brian Orelli: Yes, this was a pretty big study they tested monoclonal antibodies, treatments from Vir Biotechnology (NASDAQ:VIR), AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV), AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN), Regeneron (NASDAQ:REGN), and Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY)

Eli Lilly seems to be the big loser here. Bamlanivimab didn’t work at all against the variants and that’s not really a big blow since the company had already stopped distributing it as a monotherapy.

The combination of bamlanivimab and Eli Lilly’s other monoclonal antibody etesevimab also appeared to not work against the variants.

AbbVie’s antibody combo had partial loss of activity. It reduced viral loads in the lung, but less so for measurements of virus levels in the nose.

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As you said, this is pre-clinical testing in mice so it’s hard to know how much it’s going to translate into treatments or preventions in humans. Although at least for prevention that’s probably less of an issue at this point because anybody who was trying to get prevented would probably just get the vaccine.

Bigger picture, you really need an antibody that binds to a place on the virus that can’t be mutated, but if it gets mutated then it creates a non-functional virus so we need something that’s highly conserved and very important to the virus.

Then the antibodies don’t bind to the entire virus, they only bind to a small portion of the protein on the outside of the virus. You want to find something that’s highly conservant, and so each one of these tests on new variants adds further evidence that the companies might have actually found an antibody that’s universal to all variants.

But I’m not sure we quite have enough evidence here to declare complete victory for Vir’s or AstraZeneca’s or Regeneron’s antibodies being universal just quite yet.

Speights: Brian, do you have any even guestimate on how significant of a market do you think that will be for this antibody therapy is going forward, especially if the vaccines continue to hold up pretty well against variants?

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Orelli: Yeah, I think the other issue here, and maybe we’ll talk about this later with GlaxoSmithKline and Vir, is that they tend to need to be used really early, and that’s going to become really difficult as COVID wanes, and people aren’t going to know the difference between “I have COVID” or “I have a flu,” and so they’re probably going to wait a little bit longer then they would right now to get tested.

At that point, by the time that you’re needing to go in the hospital, these antibodies aren’t very effective and so they won’t be given. I think the market is going to be relatively small for these monoclonal antibodies.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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