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WHO advises against two COVID-19 treatments due to limited effectiveness against Omicron

Both therapies continue to be recommended for use by the European drugs regulator. Another COVID-19 therapy that emerged early in the pandemic was Gilead’s antiviral Remdesivir.

WHO advises against two COVID-19 treatments due to limited effectiveness against Omicron
According to the pharma company, the test is the next generation of Roche's existing SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Antibody Test, which was launched in July 2020. (File/Representational)

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday revised its COVID-19 treatment guidelines and strongly advised against two antibody therapies due to their ineffectiveness against Omicron and the variant’s latest offshoots.

The two therapies, sotrovimab as well as casirivimab-imdevimab, were some of the first medicines developed early in the pandemic. According to experts, the antibody therapies were designed to work by binding to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 to neutralise the virus’ ability to infect cells.

According to a report by the news agency Reuters, the virus has since evolved, and mounting evidence from lab tests suggests the two therapies have limited clinical activity against the latest iterations of the virus. As a result, they have also fallen out of favour with the U.S. health regulator, Reuters reported.

On Thursday, WHO experts said they strongly advised against the use of the two therapies in patients with COVID-19, and with this move they reversed their previous conditional recommendations endorsing them, as part of a suite of recommendations published in the British Medical Journal.

GSK and partner Vir Biotechnology’s sotrovimab – which has generated billions in sales and became one of the British drugmaker’s top sellers last year – was pulled off the U.S. market by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April, Reuters reported.

Given the United States had begun to question sotrovimab’s clinical effectiveness against Omicron as early as February, the WHO’s realisation is coming a little late, said Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London.

“Now WHO has issued this recommendation, it will be interesting to see how many other countries align with it,” she said as quoted by Reuters.

Regeneron and partner Roche’s antibody cocktail casirivimab-imdevimab has also generated billions in sales and was one of the U.S. drugmaker’s top sellers last year. Back in January, the FDA revised its stance on the treatment, limiting its use to a smaller group of patients, citing its diminished potency against the Omicron variant.

Both therapies continue to be recommended for use by the European drugs regulator. Another COVID-19 therapy that emerged early in the pandemic was Gilead’s (GILD.O) antiviral Remdesivir. The WHO expanded its conditional recommendation for the drug, advising that it can be used in patients with severe COVID as well as non-severe COVID patients at the highest risk of hospitalisation.

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There is a handful of existing COVID-19 therapeutics that remain useful in the fight against the virus, and others in development that are expected to also benefit patients.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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