MOH in advanced talks with AstraZeneca on potential purchase of Covid-19 treatment drug

Trial results on AstraZeneca's drug cocktail AZD7442 have shown promise. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) is in advanced talks with AstraZeneca on the potential purchase of its antibody drug for Covid-19 treatment.

MOH said on Friday (Nov 19), in response to queries from The Straits Times, that it closely tracks the progress of Covid-19 therapeutics candidates under development globally.

However, citing commercial sensitivities and confidentiality undertakings, MOH said it is unable to disclose more information on the discussions.

The response comes after trial results on AstraZeneca's drug cocktail, AZD7442, were released by the company on Thursday, showing that it is able to reduce patients' risk of developing a severe form of the disease or death by up to 88 per cent when given within three days of the onset of symptoms.

AZD7442 consists of two antibodies which are derived from antibody-producing B-cells that were donated by convalescent or recovering Covid-19 patients.

Both antibodies have been modified to provide long-lasting protection for up to a year in those who receive the drug as treatment, and around six months for those who got the drug for prevention.

The clinical trial involved patients with mild to moderate Covid-19, of which around 90 per cent of the patients had other conditions such as cancer or diabetes, putting them at high risk of developing a severe form of the disease.

The trial, known as Tackle, involved more than 900 participants across 13 countries. Half of them received the drug while the other half received a placebo, the company added.

AstraZeneca, whose Covid-19 vaccine has been widely used around the world, had on Oct 5 submitted a request to the United States Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorisation for AZD7442 as a preventive treatment.

The company had agreed to supply the US government with 700,000 doses of AZD7442 if granted the authorisation.

AstraZeneca's new drug joins the current arsenal of monoclonal antibodies, with companies such as Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) having also developed similar therapies to treat mild to moderate Covid-19.

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Monoclonal antibodies are lab-produced drugs that mimic the role of antibodies to fight the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.

Regeneron said on Nov 8 that its antibody cocktail could reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19 by 81.6 per cent in the two- to eight-month period following the drug's administration, according to its late-stage trial.

Similarly, GSK's antibody drug sotrovimab, which it developed with Vir, showed a 79 per cent reduction in the risk of hospitalisation and death.

Both drugs have received interim authorisation by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) under the Pandemic Special Access Route for treating mild to moderate Covid-19 in patients who are at risk of a severe form of the disease.

Singapore has also signed a supply agreement with Merck for its antiviral pill which is able to halve the chance of hospitalisation and death among those at risk of severe disease.

Merck, known as MSD outside the US and Canada, and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics would have to submit the drug's data to the HSA to be assessed for use here.

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