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Explained: What are Monoclonal Antibodies and why are they important.

Monoclonal antibodies are artificial antibodies that are produced by extracting antibodies from human blood and then cloning them. According to medical journals and research websites, these antibodies are basically immune molecules that are made in a laboratory and designed in a way to mimic the body’s natural response to infection, like in the case of COVID-19, the antibodies are made to recognize and bind to a part of the SARS-CoV2 virus and block them from infecting healthy cells. Clinical trials conducted suggest that this binding of the antibodies with the virus blocks the progression of the disease and reduces the chance of severe complications in high-risk people if administered early.

This treatment is, till now, recommended only for patients who have mild to moderate symptoms of the disease with some complications, and not for patients under critical care or who require oxygen. When the prescribed conditions are met, these antibodies can be given to such patients through an intravenous infusion within 10 days of diagnosis. The antibodies help in reducing the chance of hospitalization and death, fasten up the healing, and lessen the possibility of the Covid infected patient transferring the virus to someone else, thus breaking the chain of transmission.

Know the difference between Antigens and Antibiotics:

An antigen is any substance or organism that is alien to us and is unrecognized by our immune system. It could be anything from bacteria to chemicals, to viruses, or even foods. These antigens typically trigger an immune response, after which the Antibodies (proteins) bind with the antigen in order to neutralize the latter – or make other elements of the immune system “aware” of their presence.

Simply put, an antigen is a disease agent (virus, toxin, bacterium parasite, fungus, chemical, etc) that the body needs to remove, and an antibody is a protein that gets itself attached to the antigen to allow our immune system to identify and deal with it, or maybe to get rid of it.

Oxford’s recent study on the Monoclonal Therapy:

The much-discussed University of Oxford’s trials suggests that Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody reduces the risk of deaths by a fifth for patients with severe Covid-19 who had not developed a natural antibody response compared to those who received standard care. The therapy also reduces the hospital stay of some patients by four days and chances of ventilator requirement. However, when studied on the overall population including the ones who can grow natural immune response, it did not show much benefit.

So, according to Oxford’s trials with the therapy, it has been found that the monoclonal antibody therapy can yield results for those who cannot develop a natural immune response even if they have severe symptoms and have been hospitalised. With the first large trial covering close to 10, 000 participants and conducted through eight months, a definitive conclusion can be derived that the treatment reduced deaths significantly even with severe Covid-19.

Availability of the Antibody Therapy in India:

Currently, monoclonal antibodies casirivimab and imdevimab, under the brand name REGEN-COV, are available for use in India through a partnership between Swiss drug giant Roche and an Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla. The antibody therapy has already received the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation’s restricted emergency use permission in May 2021. Apart from this, a few other similar options to are in the pipeline waiting to get their trials completed and then get approval from CDSCO, before hitting the market. One such candidate being developed by Zydus,  ZRC-3308 is expected to be going through trials in the coming months.

However, the therapy is a bit expensive in India due to the time and process involved in preparing it. Currently, the antibody cocktail is sold at a price of ₹ Rs 59,750 per dose, by Cipla. Meanwhile, another monoclonal antibody cocktail developed by Eli Lilly, combining bamlanivimab and etesevimab, has received emergency use approval in India by CDSCO and is expected to be available over the coming weeks.

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