New Covid drug at £800 a dose that protects vulnerable patients

A drug that has been shown to protect vulnerable patients still at risk from Covid can also drastically reduce their chances of dying if infected, a study has found.

Evusheld, developed by AstraZeneca, was approved by UK regulators in March – but as The Mail on Sunday revealed the following month, the Department of Health and Social Care refused to cover the £800 cost per dose .

However, in light of the latest findings, experts have renewed their calls for the drug to be rapidly used by the NHS for the most vulnerable patients as Covid infections start to rise again.

An estimated 500,000 Britons do not respond to Covid vaccines due to a severely weakened immune system – known as immunocompromised – and many of them are still protected. These are mostly blood cancer patients, as well as transplant patients who rely on drugs to suppress their immune system to prevent their body from rejecting donor organs. These same drugs make the Covid vaccine less effective.

An estimated 500,000 Britons are still at risk of Covid-19 because current vaccinations do not offer adequate protection. A new drug developed by AstraZeneca, Evusheld, could boost their immune systems, but the government is unwilling to pay the £800 cost per dose

Some patients are not sufficiently protected by existing Covid-19 vaccines.  Some vulnerable people have received five vaccines at this stage

Some patients are not sufficiently protected by existing Covid-19 vaccines. Some vulnerable people have received five vaccines at this stage

In an effort to provide vulnerable Britons with some protective measures, they had been offered extra shots, meaning many will have already received five doses of the Covid vaccine. But the protective antibodies provided by the shots – defensive proteins created by the body’s immune system in response to a vaccine – decline rapidly in these patients.

Trial results for Evusheld published earlier this year showed that, if taken once every six months, it reduced a person’s risk of catching Covid by almost 80%. And the latest data now shows that if given within a week of Covid infection, Evusheld can also reduce the risk of serious illness and death by 50%, even in patients considered most vulnerable.

Experts say Evusheld should now play a dual role in protecting those most at risk and ensuring hospitals remain free of Covid patients as they fight to reduce surgery waiting lists.

Official figures last week revealed Covid cases are on the rise again and the number of patients in hospital with the virus has risen from 4,200 to 5,000 in the past seven days. Professor Penny Ward, a pharmaceutical expert at King’s College London, said: “It is important that the Department of Health and Social Care gets Evusheld soon, so that we can protect vulnerable people when Covid returns this winter.”

Since December 2021, Britons deemed to be at high risk of becoming dangerously ill with Covid have been offered medication in hospital to bolster their defences. But there are growing concerns that some of them are ineffective against the Omicron variant and its various subtypes.

One drug, called sotrovimab, may soon be withdrawn from NHS use due to fears it is ineffective against the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, which is now prevalent in the UK. In April, the US Food and Drug Administration withdrew its approval of sotrovimab while further investigations are conducted. The UK Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency says it is also looking into the treatment.

And in January, NHS chiefs took the decision to stop using another treatment, ronapreve, after studies showed it was no longer effective against Omicron. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said in April that government scientists were still evaluating the effectiveness of Evusheld against the Omicron variant. No results of these investigations have yet been reported.

Meanwhile, other research has suggested that Evusheld does indeed fight Omicron – an Oxford University lab study published in May found it still works against all the newer Covid variants.

“That’s more than can be said for sotrovimab, which doesn’t appear to be particularly effective against Omicron but is still used regularly by the NHS,” says Professor Ward.

Evusheld is a monoclonal antibody. It works by attaching itself to and inhibiting the ability of the Covid virus to bind to healthy cells and infect the body.

The data from the most recent trials is important because the participants were, for the most part, classified as vulnerable and, at the time, unvaccinated. The trial recruited more than 900 participants worldwide and 90% had a condition that put them at risk of developing severe Covid, including cancer, diabetes, obesity and chronic lung disease.

When a single dose of Evusheld was given within seven days of signs of Covid infection, their risk of hospitalization or death was reduced by 50% compared to a group given a placebo. When the drug was administered within three days, this figure rose to 88%.

“Despite the success of vaccines, many people, such as the elderly, people with comorbidities and those who are immunocompromised, remain at risk of poor outcomes in severe Covid-19,” says Hugh Montgomery, professor of medicine. intensive care unit at University College London. and principal investigator of the Evusheld trial. ‘[The trial results] show that a dose of Evusheld can prevent these people from progressing to severe Covid-19, with earlier treatment leading to even better outcomes.

Professor Ward says it would be up to health chiefs to decide whether to give the drug as a preventative medicine – to prevent patients from catching Covid – or to roll it out as a treatment once people are infected. She adds: ‘The data shows that it is effective at doing both. I guess the government would prefer to use it as a treatment, because it’s easier to offer infected people a single injection than 500,000 injections every six months.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We recognize that Evusheld could also be used as a treatment for patients infected with the virus and we are closely monitoring clinical trial data.”

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