By Barrett Seaman–
When The Hudson Independent interviewed Regeneron’s President and Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos last August, he predicted that the country’s inability to attain “herd immunity” against COVID-19 meant that there would be “a continuing reservoir for new variants to emerge.” With the sudden and dramatic invasion of the Omicron variant, we went back to the Tarrytown-based pharmaceutical company for an update. Herewith The Indy’s questions and Regeneron’s responses:
THI: Our impression is that Omicron is significantly more transmissible than previous variants but perhaps less virulent in that it is less likely to get into the lungs. Is that accurate in your view?
Regeneron: Scientists are still learning a lot about Omicron and we have a ways to go before it can be fully understood. We recommend looking into the latest from epidemiologists reporting data thus far on the variant.
THI: Omicron appears to be more successful in evading vaccines than previous variants, leading to a diminution of confidence in vaccines—and more attention to treatments of already infected patients. Is Regeneron positioned to respond to this shift?
Regeneron: We have confirmed that multiple ‘next generation’ monoclonal antibodies from our large collection of fully human monoclonal antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 are active against the Omicron (B.1.1.529) and Delta (B.1.617.2) variants, as well as against the other variants of concern. While Regeneron’s currently authorized REGEN-COV antibodies have diminished potency against Omicron, they are active against Delta. We are continuing to work on our ‘next generation’ antibodies that have shown to have potency against the Omicron variant of the virus and move them towards clinical trials as quickly as possible. Pending regulatory discussions, we anticipate entering the clinic in the first quarter of 2022.
THI: Omicron seems able to evade some monoclonal antibodies used to treat severe Covid cases. According to one report, at least one major New York City hospital has stopped prescribing some of the drugs because they no longer appear to work against the new variant. Is Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody one of these drugs, and are your scientists working on adjustments in order to deal with Omicron—or any other variants that might come down the road?
Regeneron: Yes, REGEN-COV was one of the medicines. We had more detail in the December 16 media statement (for full statement, go to: https://investor.regeneron.com/static-files/4aed42a1-3d26-48af-bd01-3f0c92938c11), but the key takeaway is that we have next generation antibodies that are active against Omicron so we’re working with the FDA to pursue clinical trials ASAP.
THI: Other than your monoclonal antibody cocktail, what other treatments (including ones made by Regeneron) for ongoing cases are out there?
Regeneron: Antibody therapies are an important tool to combat the pandemic, but first and foremost, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated. We are also seeing other potential tools emerge, such as oral treatments, which we hope together will help curb the pandemic.
THI: Despite negative reports early on, both hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin are still touted by some as effective treatments. What do your scientists think of these two drugs?
Regeneron: We don’t evaluate other medicines and encourage you to look into peer-reviewed publications from reputable sources to determine the efficacy and safety of those medicines.
THI: If you had to make a prediction, what is the near-term future of the Omicron variant? Will it burn itself out? Will it spin off yet another variant?
Regeneron: Given our experience in infectious diseases (like Ebola and RSV), we always expected the SARS-CoV-2 virus to mutate over time. We originally took an antibody cocktail approach (versus a single antibody) in order to help address those likely mutations. We also had other antibody candidates waiting in the wings for the situation we are in now with Omicron.
THI: What is the long-term future of COVID? When interviewed by us last summer, (Regeneron President) George Yancopoulos predicted the virus will be with us for a long time. Will it eventually devolve into an endemic presence like the flu?
Regeneron: Yes, in all likelihood we will continue to see mutations and we will need to have vaccines and treatments available to address it, similar to what we do now with the flu.