Regeneron antibody treatment ‘may be’ less effective against omicron — what’s that mean for Texas?

Coronavirus

FILE — A box of Regeneron-Cov antibody therapy at Ally Medical Emergency Room in Austin. The drug is administered through an IV or injection. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After Regeneron announced its monoclonal antibody treatment could be less effective against the omicron variant of COVID-19, the state of Texas might eventually be forced to shift its strategy in fighting the virus.

Regeneron said in a media release this week that testing and further analysis of the company’s treatment cocktail still needed to be done, but that early stage research shows its current product could be less effective against the new variant than it is against the delta variant.

Monoclonal antibody treatments have been a large part of Texas’ campaign to fight COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths to this point. Local health leaders in Austin-Travis County have also pushed the treatment option in an attempt to keep people out of local hospitals.

With Regeneron’s announcement, Dr. Jennifer Shuford, the chief state epidemiologist with DSHS, says it’s too early to tell what kind of impact the omicron variant could have in Texas and whether a new strategy will be pursued, but that they’re watching it closely.

“We’re still trying to learn which therapeutics are going to work best against omicron,” Shuford said.

Shuford noted that 99% of the cases that are being analyzed in Texas right now are still the delta variant, which antibody treatments, including the Regeneron cocktail, treat effectively. She said after a dip in cases in Texas overall, they’re starting to see more demand for the treatment again.

“Now that we’re seeing increased case counts in some parts of Texas, we’re seeing demand go back up,” Shuford said. “We are watching every week to see what our state allocation of these medications are, and matching it to areas where they need that medicine.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Department of Health and Human Services to open additional regional infusion centers across the state. According to DSHS data, demand for the therapy surged in Texas after that announcement.

 Nov 2020Dec 2020Jan 2021Feb 2021Mar 2021Apr 2021May 2021Jun 2021Jul 2021Aug 2021Sep 2021Oct 2021Nov 2021Grand Total
BAM7,77017,59021,75511,7641,304        60,183
BAM/ETE    4,6598,3222,065589  18,25538,20918,38590,483
REG 6,4653,7821356876974195227,30177,98965,34235,88015,804215,023
SOTR           6,1925,56811,760
Total7,77024,05525,53711,8996,6509,0192,4841,1117,30177,98983,59780,28139,757377,449
Courtesy DSHS

While Shuford says their focus right now is the delta variant, which still represents almost all of the cases in Texas, the omicron variant is something they’re watching closely.

“We know this is a fluid situation, but one that we’re staying on top of.”

Meanwhile, Pfizer’s CEO said this week that he has a high level of confidence that a treatment pill being produced by the biotech company will be effective against the omicron variant.

Pfizer’s treatment is in pill form, which could make it easier to administer, while the Regeneron treatment requires infusion. 

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