Despite the high-profile success of COVID-19 antibodies as a treatment for former president Donald Trump, it’s taken a while for the drugs to really catch on.
But less than a year later, and amid a new surge of virus in the United States, that's quickly changing. With hospitals again filling up with COVID-19 patients, especially in states like Florida and Texas where the delta variant is surging, antibodies are becoming the go-to treatment to help keep high-risk patients from progressing to severe forms of illness.
Regeneron, now the nation's top supplier of COVID-19 antibodies after the feds sidelined Eli Lilly's treatment, is cranking out massive shipments of its cocktail. Last week, the company delivered 135,023 doses of REGEN-COV in the United States, a spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal.
After averaging less than 25,000 doses supplied weekly, Regeneron told Fierce Pharma that it delivered more than 50,000 doses in the last week of July and more than 100,000 doses in the first week of August.
At what point does Regeneron’s supply run out?
"For now, supply is still ample," a company spokesperson said. "But we expect it may be exhausted by end of year. We are assessing the need to manufacture more product now, and are confident we can make more if needed."
GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology, which gained a green light for their antibody drug sotrovimab in May, don't have a supply deal in place with the U.S. The treatment is available in 26 states and territories, including the hard-hit states of Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama.
Orders for sotrovimab are up 300% from last month, a company spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Regeneron is seeing a big windfall from its successful pandemic treatment. The company reported $2.59 billion in antibody sales in the second quarter, which was more than the $2.53 billion figure the entire company generated in the first quarter.
The U.S. pays $2,100 per dose for the treatment, White House advisor Marcella Nunez-Smith told Bloomberg. More than 600,000 doses have been administered in the U.S.
Antibodies are provided free to Americans considered at high risk of developing severe disease. And the pool of those considered such has grown. In May, the FDA expanded its criteria, lowering the threshold for unhealthy weight and including race and ethnicity as factors. University of North Carolina Health infectious disease expert David Wohl told The Wall Street Journal that the pool of eligible people now includes 75% of American adults.
Other factors have contributed to the increased uptake of antibodies. In June, the FDA expanded REGEN-COV’s label, allowing it to be injected, as opposed to infused, making the treatment much more user friendly. The FDA also has authorized use of the treatment in smaller doses and as a prophylactic for those following exposure.
Also contributing to the skyrocketing use of REGEN-COV was the FDA’s decision in June to sideline Eli Lilly’s antibody cocktail because of its ineffectiveness against coronavirus variants. Lilly’s treatment, which was less expensive than Regeneron’s, was the favored therapy after both won emergency use nods in November. In the first quarter of this year, Lilly’s antibody sales came in at $810 million, compared to $439 million for Regeneron.
And while it's not a COVID-19 antibody, Roche's arthritis drug Actemra is also seeing "unprecedented" demand thanks to its authorizations to treat severe patients, the company said on Monday. The company disclosed a shortage that it expects to last for "at least the next several weeks."