COVID-19: Vulnerable patients to get access to a new drug to prevent serious illness

From Wednesday, the NHS will get access to a new Covid medicine aimed to minimise the chance of vulnerable people needing hospitals.

Most Covid therapies, such as the steroid dexamethasone and the arthritis medication Tocilizumab, have focused on people already in the hospital. However, a new drug has been developed that aims to reduce the risk of severe illness and hospitalisation in vulnerable groups of people.

This second generation of COVID-19 medicine will hit the markets soon and aim at patients who are more sensitive to infection at an earlier stage. Sotrovimab, developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Vir Biotechnology, is believed to lower the chances of hospitalisation in high-risk patients by 79 per cent.

Next big step

Sotrovimab is a monoclonal antibody that will be offered to transplant recipients, cancer patients, and other high-risk groups as a transfusion. If administered soon after symptoms appear, it may help people avoid becoming seriously ill due to COVID-19. According to preliminary clinical tests, it should still be effective against the Omicron. More tests are needed, but researchers believe the medicine targets a component of the virus's spike protein that has not undergone extensive mutations or alteration.

The national medical director of NHS England Prof Steven Powis commented,

These new drugs have an important role to play. If you test positive and are at high risk then we will be contacting you, and, if eligible, you will be able to get access to these new treatments.

The medicine works by adhering to the spike protein on the outside of the virus. Meaning, it prevents the virus from entering human cells and replicating in the body.

A big hope

Around 1.3 million NHS patients with high risk are eligible for Sotrovimab and other novel Covid therapies as they become available. The medicine is most effective if taken within the first five days of infection. It has been approved for use for people who are at risk of developing cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Chris Askew, the chief executive of Diabetes UK, said,

People living with diabetes are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19. Therapies that can keep people out of hospital are going to be important weapons as we look at this next period of coping with the virus.

The Department of Health is said to have placed an initial purchase for 100,000 courses of medicine, which will be dispersed throughout the United Kingdom. Sotrovimab is the second antibody treatment for COVID-19 to be approved by UK regulators, after the approval of Ronapreve earlier this year.

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