Israel Starts Widespread Use of Regeneron's COVID Treatment in High-risk Patients

Israeli Health Ministry director-general calls life-saving COVID drug 'national resource in short supply,' vows to avoid waste and to carefully determine eligibility criteria

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
A nurse enters a monoclonal antibody site, at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines, Florida, in August.
A nurse enters a monoclonal antibody site, at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines, Florida, in August.Credit: Marta Lavandier,AP
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

A coronavirus drug for patients in mild to moderate condition who are at high risk of deteriorating into serious condition will now be provided through Health Maintenance Organizations – and not just in hospitals and geriatric institutions, the Health Ministry has said.

HMOs will provide Regeneron Pharmaceuticals' REGEN-COV drug from Thursday, and each will set the criteria determining which patients are eligible to receive it. The Health Ministry has not yet set official protocol for using the drug, and the policy currently varies from hospital to hospital.

>>> Read more: Life-saving, $1,600-a-pop COVID drug arrives in Israel. Officials are upset about who's first in line

The ministry purchased a few thousand doses of the drug, which is administered by injection or intravenous infusion, at a cost of $1,500 per patient. Prof. Nachman Ash, the director general of the Health Ministry, wrote in a letter Tuesday to the heads of HMOs that the drug is "a national resource in short supply and every effort should be made to prevent the waste and destruction of doses, or from providing doses to those who do not meet the criteria."

Prof. Nachman Ash, director general of the Health Ministry, in Augsut.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“Patients will be determined based on a model that will weigh personal risk by using criteria such as age, illnesses and medical background, and vaccination status,” Ash said.

He also instructed the HMOs to establish a system through which to review patients who do not meet the criteria for receiving the drug. Those who are not hospitalized will be treated in outpatient clinics and at home, with the help of IDF medical teams.

The drug is provided by the American company Regeneron, which is traded on the Nasdaq. It made headlines in October 2020 when U.S. President Donald Trump received the drug after being diagnosed with COVID-19, though it was still an experimental treatment at the time. The U.S. FDA approved the drug for emergency use in November 2020.

The treatment is part of a class of drugs known as monoclonal antibodies, which are manufactured copies of antibodies created by the human body to fight infections.

Regeneron's REGEN-COV2 "antibody cocktail" - containing an antibody made by the company and a second isolated from humans who recovered from COVID-19 - is designed so that the two antibodies seek out and bind to the coronavirus' spike protein to prevent it from entering healthy human cells.

The company's trials of the drug found that it is 70% effective in preventing serious illness in patients when it is given within 72 hours from the onset of coronavirus symptoms, and not after deterioration has already begun.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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