COVID-19: Trials begin of antibody treatment that could prevent illness in those recently exposed

A new antibody treatment is being trialled amid hopes that it could prevent people from developing COVID-19 after being exposed to the disease.

The antibody, known as AZD7442, has been developed by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and is being looked at by the University College London Hospitals NHS Trust as part of a new trial called Storm Chaser.

UCLH consultant virologist Dr Catherine Houlihan, who is leading the Storm Chaser trial, said: "We know that this antibody combination can neutralise the virus, so we hope to find that giving this treatment via injection can lead to immediate protection against the development of COVID-19 in people who have been exposed - when it would be too late to offer a vaccine."

Dr Houlihan told Sky News said the treatment could still be effective upwards of eight days after someone had been exposed to the disease.

"We don't expect the vaccine to cover 100% of the population, there may be several of these individuals exposed and then obviously extremely anxious, their physicians will be anxious, that they may develop the disease," she said.

"In this population, if the trial is successful, we may have eight days from date of exposure which we could potentially offer them this treatment."

Ten people have been injected as part of the trial so far and UCLH aims to recruit 1,125 people worldwide.

Key groups include healthcare workers, students in shared accommodation, those recently exposed to coronavirus, those in long-term care, the military and others such as factory workers.

AstraZeneca is also the company working with Oxford University on a potential vaccine for COVID-19, which is awaiting approval for use in the UK.

Meanwhile, another antibody is being trialled in the hope it could help people who cannot benefit from vaccinations, such as those with a compromised immune system, or those at increased risk of COVID-19 due to factors such as age or their health.

The trial of this antibody is called Provent and it will be tested on volunteers including older people, those in long-term care and those with conditions such as HIV and cancer.

UCLH infectious diseases consultant Dr Nicky Longley, who is leading the university's part of Provent, said: "We want to reassure anyone for whom a vaccine may not work that we can offer an alternative which is just as protective."

NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: "The continuing contribution of the NHS to pioneering global efforts to fight COVID-19 is remarkable.

"These two clinical trials are an important addition to testing new therapeutic approaches, as antibody treatments may offer an alternative to patient groups who cannot benefit from a vaccine, such as immunocompromised patients."

News of the trials comes as the number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test passes 70,000.

On Christmas Eve, the UK recorded its highest daily number of cases at 39,237.