Vir Biotechnology (VIR -4.01%) isn't first to cross the finish line with its antibody treatment for COVID-19. In fact, with its recent Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), it joins two much bigger players. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier granted EUAs to Eli Lilly and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals for their antibody therapies.
But concerns about antibody treatments have grown along with the emergence of variants. Regeneron said earlier in the year that its treatment is effective against current variants. As for Lilly, the U.S. recently said that company's treatment wasn't working on the Brazilian and South African variants -- the government halted distribution of the therapy in certain states. And this leads me to the statement from Vir CEO George Scangos that may offer the biotech company's antibody a boost.
In vitro studies show...
In in vitro studies, "it retains activity against all known variants of concern, including the emerging variant from India," Scangos said regarding sotrovimab.
The data show sotrovimab maintaining activity against the Brazilian, California, India, New York, South Africa, and U.K. variants. How does the treatment manage to do that? By targeting a part of the coronavirus spike protein that is less likely to mutate. The company and partner GlaxoSmithKline plan to monitor the antibody's performance against any future variants. They aim to make the treatment one for use today -- and in future coronavirus outbreaks.
The U.K. strain currently is the most dominant one in the U.S. And the U.K. and Europe are fighting growth of the India variant. In fact, scientists say this highly transmissible strain may soon become the dominant one in the U.K. So, it's clear that a treatment able to handle variants of concern holds a major advantage.
Challenges facing antibodies
That's great. But you may worry about a problem that has held back use of antibody treatments. And that's the fact that they've seemed complicated for healthcare systems from the start. They only are authorized for a certain patient group (mild-to-moderate cases in people at risk of hospitalization or death). And they must be given at an infusion center or similar healthcare setting. For hospitals swamped with severely ill coronavirus patients, it's been difficult to devote resources to the use of antibody treatments.
The good news is things are improving. Especially as strong data for antibody treatments come rolling in. Vir's trials showed its antibody treatment cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 85%. In recent weeks, states and healthcare facilities have made progress on making available infusion centers and staff. The Biden administration also has given the treatments a lift. The government in March promised to invest $150 million to expand access to antibody therapies.
What about vaccination? you might ask. With more and more people vaccinated, will need for antibody treatments drop? Not necessarily. There still are many scenarios that result in individuals contracting COVID-19. Some people aren't candidates for vaccination. Others refuse vaccination. And in some cases, even vaccinated individuals end up catching the virus. So, it's extremely important to have efficacious treatments available -- especially ones that can handle variants of concern.
What does all of this mean for Vir and investors?
Vir has a real opportunity here. Sotrovimab is the company's first commercialized product. So, we're looking at a revenue source. Rivals Regeneron and Lilly generated $262 million and $810 million, respectively, in coronavirus antibody sales in the first quarter.
Considering sotrovimab's efficacy when faced with variants, it could gain major market share. As some states halt use of Lilly's antibody treatment, they may decide to give sotrovimab a try. Vir may also have an efficacy edge when compared to Regeneron's treatment. Regeneron's showed a 70% reduction in hospitalization or death in a phase 3 trial.
All of this is positive for Vir's revenue prospects moving forward. So, the words of Vir's CEO may indeed signal market dominance -- or at least a leading position. And that's excellent news for investors in this biotech company.