- Michelle Roberts
- Health editor, BBC
A year after discovering the effectiveness of an inexpensive steroid drug and providing protection against the risk of death from infection with Covid, researchers say they have found another treatment that saves patients’ lives.
This new treatment, which is expensive, involves injecting antibodies into a vein to neutralize the virus, rather than inhibiting the body’s response to it.
The results of the experiment known as “Recovery” indicate that the new treatment may help one in three people with severe infection with Covid and receiving hospital care.
Patients, whose bodies can’t already make any antibodies to fight the virus, must get treatment, which costs between £1,000 and £2,000.
Kimberly Featherston, 37, one of those who received treatment during the trial, said: “I feel very fortunate to have carried out the trial at the time I was taken to hospital with Covid-19, and because I was able to obtain this pioneering treatment.”
“I am glad my participation played a role in discovering the success of this treatment,” she added.
Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody therapy inactivates the virus and prevents it from infecting cells and reproducing.
The experiment, which included about 10,000 patients in a British hospital, concluded that the treatment significantly reduced: the risk of death, the length of hospital stay (four days on average), and the likelihood of resorting to artificial respiration.
“Giving patients this combination of two antibodies intravenously actually reduces the risk of death by a fifth,” said Martin Landray, a senior researcher involved in the trial.
He added: “What we have found so far is that we can use an antiviral treatment, in this case those antibodies, with patients facing the possibility of death without treatment, one in three cases, and we can reduce this risk for them.”
The researchers gave treatment to severely infected Covid patients, in addition to the anti-inflammatory drug “dexamethasone”, which belongs to the family of steroids, which reduces the risk of death by up to a third.
Sir Peter Horby, the lead researcher and one of those commenting on the trial, said there was a great deal of skepticism about whether antibody treatments were the right approach, with some other studies saying they weren’t working.
For example, the use of blood plasma from recovered patients – which contains antibodies that must recognize and fight the virus – has not been shown to be effective as a treatment for Covid.
However, the antibody therapy used in Recovery contains large doses of two specific, laboratory-made antibodies that are good at sticking to the pandemic virus.
Sir Peter said: “It is remarkable to know that even in the case of advanced COVID-19, targeting the virus can reduce the death of patients who fail to mount an autoantibody response.”