US secures GSK-Vir COVID-19 antibody drug doses worth $1b

A picture taken on Feb 6, 2020 shows the logo of the GSK Vaccines pharmaceutical company at its headquarters in Wavre, Belgium. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

PARIS / BRASILIA / DUBLIN / MOSCOW / ZURICH – The United States has signed contracts worth about $1 billion to secure the antibody-based COVID-19 treatment developed by Britain's GSK and US based Vir Biotechnology, the drugmakers said on Wednesday.

GSK said the deal brought the total number of doses secured for the treatment, sotrovimab, to more than 750,000 globally, adding that supply was expected by Dec 17. The United States would have an option to buy additional doses through March 2022.

The companies did not specify how many doses the US government had signed up for. However, other deals include 10,000 doses for Canada and up to 220,000 doses for the European Union.

Sotrovimab is authorized for emergency use in the United States to prevent mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 from worsening

Sotrovimab is authorized for emergency use in the United States to prevent mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 from worsening. The European Medicines Agency has given its go-ahead for use by member states although EU-wide approval is still pending.

The treatment has shown to cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 79 percent in adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19.

While vaccines remain at the heart of the fight against COVID-19, treatments including oral antiviral pills offer options to contain infections.

Last week, partners GSK and Vir said the drug was shown in a trial to work as well when given as a shot in the arm when administered via the standard infusion, potentially offering more convenience.

"Given ongoing evidence, which demonstrates its ability to maintain activity against the tested circulating variants of concern, including Delta, we are confident sotrovimab will continue to be important," Vir Chief Executive George Scangos said in a statement.

The treatment, branded Xevudy, had brought in sales of 130 million pounds ($175 million) for GSK in the first nine months of 2021.

Similar products are offered or being developed by Eli Lilly, Regeneron and AstraZeneca.

A health professional prepares a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) Recreio station during the first day of no mandatory use of facemask outdoors in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Oct 28, 2021.
(MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP)

Brazil

All Brazilians aged above 18 will be eligible to get booster shots against COVID-19, Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said Tuesday.

"Thanks to the information we have from scientific studies, we have decided to extend the booster shot to everyone over 18 years of age who received the second dose five months ago," said Queiroga.

Prior to the announcement, only people aged over 60 or with a weakened immune system and healthcare workers were eligible to get booster shots.

More than 12.4 million Brazilians are eligible to receive a booster shot, according to data from the Health Ministry.

As of Tuesday, the ministry reported a total of 21,965,684 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 611,478 deaths from the disease since the onset of the pandemic in the country.

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Czech Republic

The Czech Republic had a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. The country of 10.7 million people reported 22,479 new cases, almost a double from a week ago. The outgoing government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis is meeting Thursday to debate how to stem the spread of the pandemic. 

In this file photo taken on May 19, 2020, people ride bicycles on a new dedicated lane on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, as France eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease. (THOMAS COEX / AFP)

France

French Public Health Agency reported on Tuesday 19,778 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, a record high since Aug 25 this year when the country reported 23,706 new cases.

France now has a total of 7,310,664 COVID-19 infections since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country.

France also recorded 48 additional deaths related to COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. The total number of deaths due to COVID-19 now reached 118,271.

The numbers of new hospital admissions and critical condition patients are also on rise. According to the French Public Health Agency, 7,535 patients are currently hospitalized, 647 more than the day before, and 1,277 patients are in intensive care units, including the 135 ones in the past 24 hours.

French government's spokesperson Gabriel Attal said Tuesday morning that France is "on alert" with the resurgence of COVID-19, but no lockdown is foreseen.

ALSO READ: Austria locks down unvaccinated as European virus cases surge

In this file photo taken on March 25, 2021,
people wait in a queue to receive a swab test for COVID-19 at a walk-in portable testing center operated by the ambulance service in Dublin.  (PAUL FAITH / AFP)

Ireland

The Irish government on Tuesday announced a number of new measures aimed at curbing the surging cases of COVID-19 in the country.

The new measures include restricting the movement of close contacts of COVID-19 until they have three negative antigen test results within five days even if the close contacts are fully vaccinated and showing no symptoms.

This measure will take effect immediately, said a statement on the Irish government's website.

Other measures, which will take effect from midnight of Thursday, include asking people to revert to working from home unless it is absolutely necessary to attend the workplace in person, demanding COVID-19 passes for cinemas and theatres, and ordering bars, restaurants and nightclubs to close business before midnight, said the statement.

The government has also decided to extend the on-going vaccine booster program to those aged 50 to 59 and to those aged 16 to 59 with underlying conditions, it said.

Mexico

Mexico will make vaccinations available to children age 15 to 17 without underlying health conditions. Pre-registration will begin Friday.

“Between 10 and 14 years mortality is very low, after 15 years there is an increase in mortality, although it is still low,” virus czar Hugo Lopez Gatell said. The country has sought to reverse judicial rulings that open vaccination to children between 12 and 17.

Netherlands

The number of positive COVID-19 tests topped the 100,000 mark for the first time in the Netherlands over the past week, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment  said on Tuesday.

Between Nov 9 and Nov 16, the RIVM reported 110,558 positive tests, an increase of 44 percent compared to the previous week. It was also a weekly record, counting from June 1, 2020, the day since when everyone in the Netherlands can get tested. The previous record was 82,340 positive tests reported in December 2020.

The number of new infections increased in all the country's regions. The jump was the biggest among children in the four to 12 age group.

The number of new patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 increased by 12 percent in the past week, and three percent more new COVID-19 patients were admitted to intensive care units than a week before.

To fight the surge in COVID-19 infections, the Dutch government has introduced stricter measures from Nov 13. Over the next three weeks, restaurants, bars and essential shops will have to remain closed between 8 pm and 6 am. Social distancing of 1.5 meters minimum will also be mandatory again in public spaces.

In this file photo taken on Dec 2, 2020, the logo of US multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer is pictured at a factory in Puurs. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Pfizer

Pfizer Inc said on Tuesday it is seeking US authorization of its experimental antiviral COVID-19 pill that cut the chance of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of severe disease by 89 percent in a clinical trial.

Pfizer said it completed submission of its application for emergency use authorization of the drug, Paxlovid, with the US Food and Drug Administration, including data from the drugmaker's clinical trial.

The oral drug could be a promising new weapon in the fight against the pandemic, as it can be taken as an early at-home treatment to help prevent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. It could also become an important tool in countries and areas with limited access to vaccines or low vaccination rates.

It is not immediately clear when US regulators will rule on Pfizer's application. Merck & Co and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, which are developing a competing pill, molnupiravir, completed their EUA submission on Oct 11.

A panel of outside advisers to the FDA will meet to consider that application on Nov 30. It is expected to be available this year.

A Pfizer spokesperson said that the data the company is submitting came from testing the medicine on unvaccinated, high-risk participants. The FDA will make the final decision on who the drug will be indicated for and how it can be used.

The New York-based drugmaker said it has begun the process of seeking authorization of the treatment in several countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, and plans further international submissions.

Pfizer has said it expects to manufacture 180,000 treatment courses by the end of next month and at least 50 million courses by the end of 2022.

Russia

Russia on Saturday reported a new record one-day death toll of 1,241 from COVID-19 as well as 39,256 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours.

Most of Russia's 80-plus regions lifted a week-long workplace shutdown at the beginning of the week that was designed to curb a surge in case numbers.

In this file photo taken on Feb 24, 2021, a  university teacher is vaccinated against COVID-19 during a vaccination campaign at the Sports Center of the University of Seville in Seville. (LLUIS GENE / AFP)

Spain

Basque country reimposed some restrictions on large gatherings as infection rates rise, the first Spanish region to do so since curbs were eased earlier in the year.

In municipalities where the infection rate is above 150 per 100,000 inhabitants, the government will limit large public sports or other events where people can eat or drink, regional health chief Gotzone Sagardui said. The region will request permission from the Basque Supreme Court to implement a COVID-19 passport requirement for access to restaurants and night clubs, she said.

“We have to reinforce the measures so that we do not have to take a step back,” Sagardui said. “We have to be vigilant.” The region’s infection rate rose this week to the highest in two months.

Switzerland

Swiss voters look set to support the government's pandemic response plan in a binding referendum this month, a poll for broadcaster SRG showed on Wednesday.

The gfs.bern survey found 61 percent backed a law passed in March that expanded financial aid to people hit by the COVID-19 crisis and laid the foundation for certificates the government requires to enter bars and restaurants and attend certain events.

That was the same support as in a poll in October.

The survey found 38 percent opposed and 1 percent were undecided before the Nov 28 referendum under the Swiss system of direct democracy, slightly more opposition than measured in the previous poll, whose margin of error is 2.8 percentage points.

In two other votes that day, the Swiss would support by a two-to-one margin a labor union-backed proposal to boost the nursing profession, the poll found.

Voters were now set to reject a proposal to select federal judges by lottery from a pool of candidates proposed by experts. The government opposes the idea, which aims to reduce political pressure on the judiciary.