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AstraZeneca’s COVID antibody drug heads into advanced trials

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AstraZeneca Plc started late-stage trials for an antibody medicine against Covid-19 with a large investment from the U.S.

Two trials for more than 6,000 people are starting in the next few weeks looking at prevention, with plans for a further 4,000 adults to test the antibody medicine as a treatment, Astra said in a statement. The drug will be assessed for its ability to avoid infections for as much as a year in some people and as a pre-emptive medicine once patients have been exposed to the virus in others.

Astra is one of a number of companies exploring monoclonal antibodies as a way to prevent and treat COVID-19, which could be key for high-risk populations who may not respond well to a vaccine. The U.S. has already secured hundreds of thousands of doses of the experimental treatments.

Eli Lilly & Co. and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. last week asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use authorizations but haven’t yet received clearance. Trump has said Regeneron’s antibody cocktail was key to his apparent recovery from coronavirus.

Early data from both Eli Lilly and Regeneron suggest the medicines are effective in keeping infected people out of the hospital. GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Vir Biotechnology Inc. also started advanced tests on a possible antibody treatment last week.

Astra has agreed to supply as many as 100,000 doses to the U.S. by the end of 2020, with an option for the country to purchase one million additional doses in 2021. The U.S. previously gave the British pharmaceutical company $25 million for the discovery and evaluation of the monoclonal antibodies, and the phase I trial started in August.

The company’s long-acting antibody “has the potential to provide immediate and long-lasting effect in both preventing and treating COVID-19 infections,” Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot said in a statement released Friday.

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