China approves its first COVID-19-specific treatment

China's medical products regulator said on December 8 that it had approved for emergency use Brii Biosciences' (Brii) neutralizing antibody cocktail for COVID-19, the first treatment of its type against the virus given the go-ahead in the country.

The combination of BRII-196/BRII-198 showed an 80 percent reduction of hospitalization and deaths in non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients at high risk of developing severe disease, based on final results from a Phase III clinical trial, Brii said in a statement on Thursday.

Jointly developed by Tsinghua University, the Third People's Hospital of Shenzhen and Brii Biosciences, the treatment was carried out by selecting two monoclonal antibodies that inhibit the virus from infecting healthy cells.

"We isolated hundreds of antibodies from patients who had recovered from COVID-19, and selected the best two against COVID-19," Zhang Linqi, a professor at Tsinghua's School of Medicine and the leader of the research team, said at a press conference following the treatment's approval.

"We have very sophisticated and complex industrial systems that take the antibodies we select and reproduce them in vitro hundreds of millions of times," Zhang said.

There are at least seven countries currently researching cocktail therapy treatment for COVID-19, but Professor Zhang told CGTN that he is still confident the treatment developed by his team has advantages over the competition.

Zhang said that their cocktail uses broadly neutralizing antibodies that can target different sites of the virus, so that the treatment can protect against a wide range of mutant strains. 

"During our research and development, we have basically overcome the changes of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron. We've found that our antibodies combination was able to bind and neutralize these mutations," said Zhang.

He also said it could be used on a wide range of patients, including people with chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

"They are the targeting groups for our treatment," Zhang said. "They are the people who demonstrate the best efficacy of our drugs."

The medicine from a Brii subsidiary was approved to treat mild COVID-19 and the disease of "normal type" with high risk of progressing to hospitalization or death in adults and minors aged 12-17, the National Medical Products Administration said.

The results on how the Omicron variant would affect the antibody cocktail are expected to come out after about two weeks, according to Brii Chief Financial Officer Li Ankang.

Learn more about the COVID-19 treatment medicines in developed in China.

(CGTN's Cao Chufeng and Zhao Chenchen contributed to the story. With input from Reuters.)

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