The nation’s medical regulator has approved a new drug for Australians with COVID-19, to stop the virus from worsening.
Earlier this month, the federal government bought an initial 7,700 doses of Sotrovimab, with the first shipment ready to be deployed from next week.
But what exactly is it? And how significant is this addition to our pandemic response toolkit?
What does Sotrovimab do?
Sotrovimab is a new “monoclonal antibody therapy”.
These drugs already exist in modern medicine and are used to treat diseases like cancer and arthritis.
Monoclonal antibodies are proteins made in a lab, that mimic the body’s immune system. They work by binding to a specific target — in this case, the coronavirus’ spike protein.
They then block or slow down the virus to stop it replicating in the body.
Clinical trials have shown it can reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death in adults with mild to moderate COVID-19, who are at risk of developing severe COVID-19.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Friday said while vaccination was still the most important protection against the coronavirus, this therapy was a new way to treat coronavirus, and reduce hospitalisations.
Who can use it and how does it work?
Sotrovimab isn’t for everyone, with the government expecting between eight to 15 per cent of adults with COVID-19 could use it.
It will initially be targeted towards Australians aged over 55, who have both coronavirus and an additional risk factor that would make their COVID-19 worse, like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or severe asthma.
The treatment requires a single dose to be administered through an IV drip in a health facility.
What did the TGA say?
The national medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) on Friday approved the drug for use in adults and adolescents aged over 12.
It said the review process was rigorous and informed by expert advice from an independent medicines committee with expertise in scientific, medical and clinical fields including consumer representation.
Last month, the National COVID-19 Clinical Taskforce, which is funded by the federal government, recommended the drug should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside of clinical trials.
However, it is yet to finalise its ultimate recommendation for use, and is currently reviewing all available evidence.
Both the European Medicines Agency and US National Institutes of Health list the drug as a recommended treatment.
What other treatments do we have?
While we have vaccines to help prevent us getting COVID-19, once we have it, we don’t have many options.
There are only a couple of treatments that have been approved for use by the TGA: Remdesivir, which is an anti-viral drug, and Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory medication also used for conditions like arthritis or some cancers.
While we only have a small number of doses so far, the addition of Sotrovimab simply means there is now another potential treatment for people who get sick from COVID-19.