AstraZeneca’s new Covid treatment stops virus mutating

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 antibody drug slashes the risk of new variants emerging, the company said, as Britain faces mounting pressure to follow other Western nations in ordering doses.

AstraZeneca said recent studies had shown that offering its Evusheld Covid antibody treatment to immunocompromised patients for whom vaccines do not work meant the virus had less scope to mutate.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, said: “If you actually look at where the new variants have come up around the world, most of the time they come out of a patient who has HIV who is immunocompromised or someone who has cancer who is immunocompromised. The virus stays in their body for days and weeks and gets a chance to develop mutations.”

He said AstraZeneca’s antibody treatment, which has regulatory approval in the UK as well as the EU and the US, not only protects immunocompromised people from contracting Covid, but also “reduces the risk of development of [vaccine] resistances and the emergence of new variants”.

The EU Medicines Agency recently warned a wave of Covid mutations was spreading across the continent, meaning there was a more urgent need for older populations to get boosted.

Although the UK has approved the antibody treatment for use, it has yet to order any doses. Pressure on ministers to order doses of Evusheld has been building in recent months.

Earlier this month, experts including Gemma Peters, chief executive of Blood Cancer UK, and Lord Mendelsohn, co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on vulnerable groups to pandemics, called for the UK to order doses as soon as possible, saying immunocompromised people “cannot afford to wait and deserve better”.

The treatment is delivered in jabs to be given every six months, and has been shown to cut the risk of people developing symptomatic Covid by 77pc.

AstraZeneca said it remained in talks with government officials.

Iskra Reic, executive vice president of its vaccines and immune therapies division, said: “We will continue to do our utmost best to help and support the UK Government to make the right decision to protect immunocompromised patients… I’m optimism that they ‘ll make the right call.”

AstraZeneca said stronger demand for the Covid antibody treatment from other countries, including Canada and Australia, meant it was raising its forecast sales for the year. The company is now expecting revenues to rise by a low 20s percentage this year, not the high-teens increase it had previously forecast.

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