LONDON: An alternative anti-coronavirus jab aimed at protecting those who cannot receive vaccines will enter major trials this weekend.
The drug is made by AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company that worked with Oxford University in the UK to develop a general vaccine.
The alternative injection was developed using antibodies produced by a single coronavirus patient in the US.
The arm jab takes effect immediately and could protect people against transmission for six months to a year.
If trials prove successful, it could be used to safeguard those who cannot be administered vaccines because of their health.
An initial 1,000 people will be administered the drug in the UK this weekend, while 4,000 others from around the world will take part in the trials soon after. The trials will use a placebo test system to determine the usefulness of the drug.
Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said the antibody drug would be “almost like a passive vaccination.”
He added: “Now that’s important because obviously there’s going to be a significant number of people, even in a world where vaccines are highly effective, that will not respond to vaccines, or in fact will not take vaccines, and so having monoclonal antibodies as potential therapeutics I think is also important.”
Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, said hundreds of thousands of people might not benefit from a vaccine because they do not have a working immune system.
“It’s crucial that we leave no one behind as we move closer to finding both a vaccine and developing more treatments for COVID-19,” she added.
“We particularly need to ensure those who cannot be given a vaccine, such as people who are immuno-compromised, have alternatives available that will help protect them.”
But the jab is expensive and difficult to produce on a large scale, so it will likely be targeted at specific at-risk groups in countries worldwide.
AstraZeneca said the jab can also protect care-home residents in case of a small-scale coronavirus outbreak.
The preventative efficacy of the drug will be tested in a second trial on individuals in the US and the UK.