03 Dec 2021, 12:46

A year of Covid jabs but treatments lag behind

   PARIS, Dec 3, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - After a year of vaccines aimed at
preventing Covid, treatments for people infected with the virus are few, with
most restricted to hospital use and extremely pricey.

  Here is a look at treatment options available to Covid patients and how
accessible they are.

  - Pills to pop -

  It's every doctor's dream: a pill to prescribe after a positive test to
calm Covid and avoid serious illness -- but a safe and very effective anti-
Covid pill has yet to be found.

  The most advanced medications are molnupiravir, developed by Merck/MSD and
sold under the name Lagevrio, and Paxlovid from Pfizer.

  They're antiviral medications that slow down illness by reducing the
virus's capacity to reproduce within the body.

  Lagevrio was approved for emergency use in the EU and is in the process of
being authorised in the US.

  But while preliminary results of clinical trials in early October raised
hopes for the medication, final results released by Merck/MSD on November 26
were far less promising.

  They showed Lagevrio reduced hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk
patients who took it at the start of their illness by 30 percent -- not by
half as previously estimated.

  Other questions surround the safety of the treatment: in theory, its use
could lead to the rise of variants of the virus or even cause cancer,
although the risks have been deemed small by US experts.

  US and EU health officials are looking at clinical trial data on Paxlovid,
which is partially based on the anti-HIV medication ritonavir. One advantage
to both antivirals is that because of the way they work in the body they are
unlikely to be less effective in the face of new variants of Covid.

  They are also the only treatment that exists so far that can be given
outside a hospital setting.

  - Synthetic antibodies -

  Antibodies, which are naturally produced in healthy people to fight
infection, can be generated in a lab and given to patients -- but their steep
price tag means that kind of therapy isn't for general use.


  The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends synthetic antibody
treatments for elderly patients and those with suppressed immune systems.

  Ronapreve combines synthetic monoclonal antibodies called casirivimab and
imdevimab and is administered by a single intravenous injection.

  One dose of Ronapreve, developed by the labs Regeneron and Roche, is
estimated to cost $2,000 (1,700 euros).

  Another complicating factor is that because of the way they work within the
body, synthetic antibodies could be rendered less effective in the face of
new variants.

  On November 30, Regeneron announced their treatment could see its efficacy
reduced against the Omicron variant.

  The WHO has recommended other synthetic antibodies for even more critical
patients including tocilizumab, sold as Actemra or RoActemra by Roche, and
sarilumab sold by Sanofi under the name Kevzara.

  The molecules are immunosuppressants and should be given alongside

  On Thursday, the UK authorised a monoclonal antibody treatment called
sotrovimab, which is from Vir Biotechnology/GSK and is meant to have long-
term effects.

  - Corticosteroids -

  Corticosteroids are the first treatment to have been officially recommended
by the WHO in September of 2020 and only for the most seriously ill patients.

  It fights the inflammation that is characteristic of severe Covid, reducing
the risk of death and the need for ventilation.

  - What about poor countries? -

  According to estimates by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a few days of
Lagevrio or Paxlovid treatments would cost about $700.

  Pfizer and Merck have signed voluntary licensing agreements intended to
ease the distribution of these drugs outside of rich countries once they are
officially authorised.

  But that is only the first step for impoverished health systems to get
widespread access to the medications.


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