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COVID Antibody Treatments Exceed Expectations in Early Trials

By Ernie Mundell and Robin Foster HealthDay Reporters

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 27, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- There's some much-needed good news on both the treatment and prevention of COVID-19.

On the treatment front, promising new data on two coronavirus antibody cocktails suggests these therapies can keep patients out of the hospital and even prevent illness altogether in some people.

And in terms of prevention, on Tuesday Israel reported a sharp drop in new COVID-19 infections after more than 40 percent of its population received just one shot of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. Even stronger results were seen in those who had gotten their second shot, as Israel -- a leader in delivering vaccine to its people -- becomes an international test case for vaccine effectiveness, The New York Times reported.

The good news continued later in the day, when President Joe Biden announced a deal to buy 200 million more doses of coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna. Those additional shipments won't come until the summer, the Associated Press reported.

As for the antibody cocktails, they showed more mettle against COVID-19 than expected in early trial results.

On Tuesday, Eli Lilly said that its two-antibody combo reduced the risk of hospitalizations or death by 70% in newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients at high risk of serious illness and hospitalization because of their age or other health conditions, the AP reported. All 10 deaths seen in the study were among those receiving placebo, not the antibody cocktail.

At the same time, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. reported preliminary results from an ongoing study that indicated its antibody cocktail prevented symptomatic infections in housemates of someone with COVID-19. Instead of an IV drip, the drug was given as multiple shots, which will make the treatment easier to deliver, the AP said.

Neither report has been published or subjected to peer review, and the Regeneron data is based on only one quarter of the patients in its study, the AP reported.

U.S. regulators have allowed emergency use of some Lilly and Regeneron antibodies for mild or moderate COVID-19 cases that do not require hospitalization as research on the treatments continued. Now, both companies are asking regulators to expand authorization of their drugs based on the new findings, the AP said.

Regeneron's results were on the first 409 people in a study that has enrolled more than 2,000 so far. All tested negative for the virus but live with someone who has COVID-19.

There were roughly half as many infections among those given the antibody treatment versus a placebo, and none on the drug developed any symptoms, the AP reported. Infections also were shorter and the amount of virus lower among those given the antibodies.

Lilly's new results were from a study of 1,035 non-hospitalized patients recently diagnosed with COVID-19. About 2% on the drug were later hospitalized or died versus 7% of the placebo group, the AP reported.

Biden sets new vaccination goal

President Joe Biden has upped the country's daily coronavirus vaccination goal to 1.5 million, even as more infectious variants surfaced across America.

"I think with the grace of God . . . we'll be able to get that [vaccinations] to 1.5 million a day," Biden said during a media briefing on Monday.

Initially, Biden had promised 1 million shots a day, or 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, the Washington Post reported. But the country has been meeting that target in the past week.

A million shots a day is still his minimum goal, Biden said, but "I hope we'll be able to increase as we go along so we'll get to 1.5 million. That's my hope."

By spring, everyone who wants a vaccine should be able to get one, Biden added.

"It's going to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we've ever tried in this country, but I think we can do that," Biden said. "I feel confident that by summer we're going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity. I feel good about where we're going, and I think we can get it done."

The ambitious goal was announced the same day that a more contagious coronavirus variant first spotted in Brazil was diagnosed in a Minnesota man who had just returned from traveling to that country, the AP reported. At the same time, a variant that first surfaced in Britain and prompted a nationwide lockdown there has already been detected in 24 U.S. states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, an even more troubling variant that was first detected in South Africa has shown the ability to lessen the effectiveness of vaccines in testing, but it hasn't been spotted in the United States yet.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading infectious diseases expert, told CBS News that health officials are worried about the South African variant.

"We have concern about the mutation that's in South Africa," Fauci said. "It is clearly different and more ominous than the one in the U.K."

Travel bans to stop new variants

As of Wednesday, more than 23.5 million Americans have been vaccinated while nearly 44.4 million doses have been distributed, according to the CDC. Nearly 3.5 million people have received their second shot.

As more infectious coronavirus variants first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa circulate globally, Biden announced plans to bar travel by non-citizens into the United States from South Africa.

The South Africa travel ban will go into effect on Jan. 30 and an existing ban will be extended on non-citizen travelers from Europe and Brazil, the Times reported.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently warned that the British coronavirus variant could become the dominant source of infections in the United States by March and would likely trigger surges in cases and deaths.

And in small studies published last week, scientists found that the South African variant is less susceptible to antibodies created by natural infection or by vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, which have both been authorized for emergency use in the United States, the European Union and elsewhere. Those vaccines can be altered in a matter of weeks, but experts warn that it would be difficult to update them constantly, the Times reported.

There was better news on Monday, however: In a small study involving 8 patients, Moderna said that although its vaccine did show a sixfold reduction in levels of antibodies when pitted against the South Africa variant, those antibodies "remain above levels that are expected to be protective," the Times reported.

Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna's chief medical officer, told the newspaper it is already developing a booster vaccine that could perform better against the South Africa variant "to be ahead of the curve should we need to."

Meanwhile, coronavirus vaccines held up against the British variant in one study. But during a media briefing in London last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the variant was not only more contagious but may also be more deadly. While scientists agree that the evidence of the so-called British variant's greater lethality is preliminary and based on limited data, U.S. health officials took note of the news.

"We need to assume now what has been circulating dominantly in the U.K. does have an increase in what we call virulence to cause more damage, including death," Fauci told CBS News on Sunday.

A global scourge

By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 25.4 million while the death toll passed 425,000, according to a Times tally. On Wednesday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with over 3.2 million cases; Texas with nearly 2.3 million cases; Florida with over 1.6 million cases; New York with more than 1.3 million cases; and Illinois with over 1.1 million cases.

Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.

In India, the coronavirus case count was nearly 10.7 million by Wednesday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Brazil had over 8.9 million cases and nearly 219,000 deaths as of Wednesday, the Hopkins tally showed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed the grim marker of 100 million on Wednesday, with more than 2.1 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: The New York Times; Washington Post, CBS News; Associated Press

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