Regeneron Starts First Human Trial in US of a Medicine for Treating and Preventing COVID-19

Tarrytown-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals announced it started administering an antibody cocktail on patients on June 10 that might treat and prevent COVID-19. The first medicine of its kind tested on humans in the United States, it has been given to people in multiple sites around the country. If the clinical trial is successful, Regeneron said it hopes the cocktail will be available by this fall.

“We have created a unique antiviral antibody cocktail with the potential both to prevent and treat infection, and also to preempt viral ‘escape,’ a critical precaution in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic,” Dr. George Yancopoulos, co-founder, president and chief scientific officer at Regeneron, said in a press release.

Antibodies are proteins produced naturally by our bodies to fight illnesses like COVID-19. Regeneron’s scientists searched through thousands of antibodies and picked two believed to best fight against the novel coronavirus. They then scaled up the antibodies and put them into a medicine cocktail designed to treat symptoms and protect against infection. Dr. Yancopoulos noted the cocktail may prove especially effective for those most at risk, like the elderly or health care workers.

Before Regeneron can find out if their cocktail, named REGN-COV2, works, the company needs to make sure it is safe for humans to use. Thus, they began the first phase of the trial in a small number of patients before increasing the treatment for a more concrete picture of its effectiveness. Regeneron began giving its antibody cocktail to four study populations: patients currently hospitalized with Covid-19; non-hospitalized symptomatic COVID-19 patients; uninfected people at a high risk of exposure; and uninfected people who have been in close contact with a person who tested positive.

It’s worth noting that antibody treatments are not vaccines and do not provide permanent protection. However, this so-called “passive immunization” works swiftly and would likely be available before an actual vaccine Covid-19 vaccine is discovered.

The companies Eli Lilly and AbCellera partnered up for the first study of a potential COVID-19 antibody treatment earlier this month. The trial uses a single antibody in its therapy, and Eli Lilly also began a second clinical trial of another single antibody treatment with Junshi Biosciences in China. What sets Regeneron apart is that REGN-COV2 uses two antibodies working together that will hopefully both treat and clear existing COVID-19 infections. The company used the same technology for this cocktail as it did for an Ebola treatment it developed last year that performed so well its clinical trial was stopped early. Regeneron hopes to find similar success with REGN-COV2.

Gilead Sciences’ broad-spectrum antiviral remdesivir was given an emergency use authorization to treat COVID-19 in May. Whereas remdesivir indiscriminately inhibits an enzyme that viruses use for replicating themselves, REGN-COV2 was developed to interfere specifically with the path the novel coronavirus uses to enter host cells. Because REGN-COV2 mimics antibodies from patients recovered from Covid-19, there’s hope it can be used safely as a prevention.

Even if Regeneron isn’t the first to treat and prevent COVID-19, it at least offers some optimism. As Dr. Yancopoulos said, “Ultimately, the world needs multiple solutions, and the innovative biopharma industry is collectively working hard to help as many people as possible with a variety of complementary approaches.”

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About the Author: Jon Jackson