Coronavirus Update: Vir, GSK’s COVID-19 antibody treatment works against omicron in a lab study, and WHO no longer recommends convalescent plasma

United States

Vir Biotechnology Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline PLC’s COVID-19 antibody treatment worked against omicron in a laboratory study, marking the latest announcement indicating that the research race to combat the new variant is underway.

The companies said Tuesday that an in vitro study demonstrated that their monoclonal antibody is active against omicron, which has 37 mutations on the spike protein. The antibody treatment, sotrovimab, received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration back in May.

Vir’s VIR, +4.42% stock gained 4.2% in trading on Tuesday, while shares of GlaxoSmithKline GSK, +1.51% were up 0.4%.

“We are confident that sotrovimab will continue to provide significant benefit for the early treatment of patients hoping to avoid the most severe consequences of COVID-19,” Vir CEO George Scangos said in a statement. 

The emergence of omicron in recent weeks has set off a chain reaction among COVID-19 drug and vaccine makers, which are now conducting laboratory studies evaluating how well their therapies and shots work against omicron.

The other makers of monoclonal antibodies have also said they are trying to see if their therapies will work against the new variant. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. REGN, +1.96% executives last week told analysts that they expect their treatment “to be potent against omicron,” with more data expected in the coming weeks. Eli Lilly & Co. Inc. LLY, -1.27% said Dec. 3 that it is assessing the “neutralization activity of our therapies on the omicron variant of concern.”

The latest COVID-19 numbers

The daily average case count in the U.S. climbed to 119,751 on Monday, the highest since Sept. 25 and a 28% increase from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. The daily average death toll rose 13%, to 1,266, the most since Nov. 4. Hospitalizations increased 18% to a seven-week high of 59,702. 

About 199.3 million people in the U.S., or 60%, are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 23% of the population have received a booster dose. 

Other COVID-19 news to know:

The World Health Organization said Tuesday it no longer supports convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19 patients. “Plasma administration, especially for patients with non-severe illness where there is a low baseline risk of mortality and other important clinical outcomes, is not justified,” the organization wrote in The BMJ. The treatment is also considered ineffective in the U.S., based on the findings of a National Institutes of Health clinical trial. 

Europeans will now have the choice to “mix and match” their COVID-19 vaccines, following a new recommendation from the European Medicines Agency and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. The agencies said Tuesday that getting a viral vector vaccine and then a mRNA shot produces “good levels of antibodies” as well as a “higher T-cell response” whether the mixing occurs in the primary series or with a booster. 

International travelers now have to produce a negative test one day before flying to the U.S., starting Monday. The shorter window, down from 72 hours, to get a pre-flight test is aimed at protecting people in the U.S. while more information is learned about the omicron variant, according to the CDC.