Just days after Regeneron published early data on its antibody cocktail to treat COVID-19, the world found out the president of the U.S. was taking it.
What followed was a run-up for Regeneron shares, a series of shout-outs from President Donald Trump and a fair share of media appearances for the company's co-founders. The high-profile attention is a rare public relations bump that can’t be bought—and one the company seems at ease leveraging.
It may also be a sign of the COVID-19 times. Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day went on multiple TV interviews to talk about remdesivir, the company's antiviral that's still in clinical trials but boasts an emergency use authorization from the FDA.
The White House announced Friday afternoon that the president had received “a single 8-gram dose" of Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody cocktail, provided under the company's compassionate use program. “All we can say is that they asked to be able to use it, and we were happy to oblige,” CEO Leonard Schleifer told The New York Times.
The Trump news blitz came just days after Regeneron reported that the higher of two tested doses—the 8 grams that Trump received—lowered virus levels and relieved symptoms more quickly than standard care did in patients who were infected with COVID-19, but not sick enough to be hospitalized.
Schleifer appeared on CNN Friday night with host Chris Cuomo, talking about the cocktail and addressing skepticism from other scientists.
“Scientists need to be skeptical. That's our stock in trade,” he said, according to the show transcript. “But there comes a point where skepticism has to give way to pragmatism, when we're in a pandemic. If we have the luxury of waiting, and seeing, and nobody's dying, or nobody might get very sick, or nobody's at high risk, well, then, you can sit back and wait for all the data to come in."
Meanwhile, the patient got in on the hype. In a video from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday night, Trump talked about feeling better. While he didn't name Regeneron, he said the treatments he was getting were "miracles from God."
Regeneron's stock price bounced up over the weekend, going from $565 at market close Friday to $598 at market open on Monday. It traded as high as $609 on Tuesday before closing at $583.
Also on Monday, Schleifer appeared on the CNBC show “Squawk Box” to talk more about the drug and his company’s role in the president’s treatment. While he said he couldn't reveal details of the president’s individual treatment, he did discuss the White House medical team's request and the clinical results to date.
“Did we help him? I’d like to think so. It’s impossible to know with one patient. But the evidence we have from hundreds of patients thus far is that to give this drug early in the course of the disease, particularly in people who might have a high virus or maybe don’t have enough of an immune response … you can really help them clear that virus,” he said.
Meanwhile, Regeneron Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos, who co-founded the company with Schleifer, appeared on MSNBC on Monday morning. He talked with host Hallie Jackson, who asked about the drug cocktail’s safety and potential interactions with other meds the president received, including Gilead’s remdesivir and the generic steroid dexamethasone.
“Theoretically, there should not be any additional interactions with any of these other medications with our very natural antibody cocktail than you would normally have with your own antibodies that you’re making,” he said.
Yancopoulos also refuted speculation about special treatment for the president, noting that Regeneron also reached out to offer the antibody cocktail to Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden. The antibody is in a separate trial as a preventive measure for people exposed to the novel coronavirus.
However, the Regeneron media tour may have come with a boomerang. There is a limit to the number of compassionate use requests Regeneron can fulfill, and, as Schleifer noted, they're exceptions. Fewer than 10 people have received the Regeneron therapy outside of clinical trials, including Trump.
Both Schleifer and Yancopoulos said that puts them in a difficult situation. Schleifer pushed the decision back to the FDA, which would authorize emergency use, adding to CNBC that the drug already meets "a lot" of the FDA's standard for that sort of approval.
Regeneron already has a deal to allocate initial doses if it's authorized for emergency use or approved. Under an arrangement with the Department of Defense, Regeneron will hand over the first 300,000 doses for it to distribute, Yancopoulus told the NYT.