Recent news: U.K.

December 26, 2020

UK scientists begin trial of instant immunity antibody drug treatment for COVID-19

Scientists in the UK have begun trials of innovative antibody drug treatments that they hope could provide instant protection against COVID-19.

The University College London Hospitals NHS Trust (UCLH) said that the researchers in the Storm Chase study believe a Long Acting AntiBody (LAAB) known as AZD7442, developed by AstraZeneca, may offer immediate and long-term protection to people who have been recently exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and prevent them developing COVID-19.

The study, led by UCLH virologist Dr Catherine Houlihan, recruited the first participant in the world to the study earlier this month and has recruited 10 participants since then.

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, said Houlihan.

UCLH said its new vaccine research centre is running two clinical trials testing a LAAB combination treatment to protect against COVID-19.

The second Provent study is looking at the use of AZD7442 in people who may not respond to vaccination, for instance where someone has a compromised immune system or are at increased risk of COVID-19 infection due to factors such as age and existing conditions.

We will be recruiting people who are older or in long-term care, and who have conditions such as cancer and HIV which may affect the ability of their immune system to respond to a vaccine.

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

Antibodies are protein molecules that the body produces to help fight infections. Monoclonal antibodies are artificially produced in a laboratory and designed as possible medical treatments. They are designed to be injected directly into the body, unlike vaccines which train the immune system itself to produce antibodies.

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, said Professor Stephen Powis, the medical director of National Health Service (NHS) England.

The LAABs have been engineered with AstraZeneca’s “proprietary” half-life extension technology to increase the durability of the therapy for six to 12 months following a single administration. The combination of two LAABs is also designed to reduce the risk of resistance developed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

AZD7442 has the potential to be an important preventative and therapeutic medicine against COVID-19, focusing on the most vulnerable patients. This work complements our vaccine development programme, said Mene Pangalos, AztraZeneca Executive Vice-President for BioPharmaceuticals Research and Development.

Storm Chaser is exploring the use of a combination of monoclonal antibodies given intramuscularly in those who have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 a setting where vaccination would not have time to work and we have no other proven therapies to date. This makes Storm Chaser an important study that may have a large impact on our ability to control this infection, noted Professor Andrew Ustianowski, who is the chief investigator of the new studies.

UCLH said that in both Provent and Storm Chaser, researchers will assess whether the treatment reduces the risk of developing COVID-19 and/or reduces the severity of infection compared to placebo.

Key participant groups in the Storm Chaser trial will include healthcare workers, students who live in group accommodation, and patients who are exposed to anyone with the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as residents of long-term care facilities and industrial/military settings.

Both trials are taking place at the newly-created Vaccine Research Centre at UCLH, which opened this month to help accelerate the development of new vaccines and treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both Storm Chaser and Provent are crucial to finding a solution to this pandemic, said Professor Vincenzo Libri, who leads the UCLH Clinical Research Facility backed by the UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The opening of our new Vaccine Research Centre will help to propel our fight against the virus, meet our aspiration to save as many lives as possible, and ensure a return to normality, he said.

The recent progress on vaccines is hugely welcome, and developing these additional treatments will be vital to ensure everyone in society can be offered protection against COVID-19, Professor Marcel Levi, UCLH Chief Executive, said.

December 25, 2020

More than 600,000 people in UK get first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine dose

More than 600,000 people in the United Kingdom have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine since inoculations began in the country earlier this month, the British government said on Thursday.

“The government has today published figures which show the number of people who have received the vaccine between 8 December and 20 December in the UK is 616,933,” the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement

Earlier this month, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to roll out the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech.

In all, Britain has ordered 40 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that he expects to receive millions of doses by the end of the year.

Vaccines have been administered to care home residents, those aged 80 and over and health and social care staff through over 500 vaccination sites, the government said.

British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc submitted a full data package about its COVID-19 vaccine to the UK’s medicines regulator, Hancock said on Wednesday.

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency Chief Executive June Raine told Reuters on Thursday the regulator started its analysis of the data and will make a decision in the “shortest time possible.”

Separately, a spokesman for the Health Department told Reuters that some staff at the Milton Keynes testing lab, the UK’s biggest, tested positive for COVID-19.

A new variant of the coronavirus has been spreading rapidly in Britain recently with huge swathes of England being placed under its strictest COVID-19 restrictions.

The mutation known as the B.1.1.7 lineage may be up to 70% more infectious and more of a concern for children. It has sown chaos in Britain, prompting a wave of travel bans that are disrupting trade with Europe and threatening to further isolate the island country.

December 24, 2020

More England areas put into tightest restrictions as new COVID variant found in UK

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday announced that more areas of the East and South East of England will be put into Tier Four restrictions, the highest level, while revealing that two cases of another new variant of the novel coronavirus have been identified in Britain.

To curb the spread of COVID-19, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, parts of Essex that are not currently in the tightest restrictions, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire will all enter Tier Four from Boxing Day, Hancock said at a virtual press conference at Downing Street.

Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire, as well as Cheshire and Warrington, will enter Tier Three, he said.

Under the new tougher measures, residents in Tier Four areas must stay at home, with limited exemptions. People are also urged to work from home when they can, and should not enter or leave those areas.

Meanwhile, Hancock also said that another new variant of the novel coronavirus has been detected in Britain, and two cases have been reported so far.

“Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks,” said Hancock.

This new variant is “yet more transmissible” and the development is “highly concerning”, he said.

Cases and close contacts of cases found in Britain are being quarantined, and the British government is placing “immediate restrictions” on travel from South Africa, according to Hancock.

Anyone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight and anyone who has been a close contact of someone who has been in South Africa in the past two weeks must quarantine immediately, said Hancock.

Experts are still learning about this new variant, and “we are pretty confident that the system we have in place will help control the spread”, Sky News quoted Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, as saying.

The press conference was held after British ministers met on Wednesday morning to hammer out plans to combat a rising number of infections in the country.

Meanwhile, Hancock said that the government is expanding community testing yet further in areas where the rate of infection is highest.

“So we can identify people, and especially to identify the around one in three people, who carry the virus without displaying any symptoms at all,” he said.

Another 39,237 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, the highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic in the country, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the UK to 2,149,551, the official data showed Wednesday.

The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 69,051, the data said.

To bring life back to normal, countries such as Britain, China, Germany, Russia and the United States are racing against time to develop coronavirus vaccines.

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