Omicron more transmissible than Delta: UK PM Boris Johnson to ministers

Early signs indicate that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is more transmissible than the variant currently dominant in the UK, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his Cabinet ministers on Tuesday.

Johnson’s official Number 10 Downing Street spokesperson told reporters in an account of the Cabinet meeting that Johnson reiterated it was still too early to draw conclusions on the wider impact of the new variant, which would depend on whether it causes severe illness.

Johnson’s comments come as the UK recorded 101 more Omicron cases on Tuesday, taking the total for the variant first detected in South Africa up to 437.

“The Prime Minister said it was too early to draw conclusions on the characteristics of Omicron but early indications were that it is more transmissible than Delta,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, British drugmaker GSK announced that its antibody-based COVID-19 therapy with US partner Vir Biotechnology, which was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) earlier this month, is effective against all mutations of the Omicron variant.

Its unpublished data shows that the companies’ treatment sotrovimab is effective against all 37 identified mutations to date in the spike protein, GSK said in a statement.

“From the outset of our collaboration with Vir, we hypothesised that sotrovimab would have a high barrier to resistance and thus could deliver best-in-class potential for the early treatment of patients with COVID-19,” said Dr Hal Barron, Chief Scientific Officer and President R&D, GSK.

“These pre-clinical data demonstrate the potential for our monoclonal antibody to be effective against the latest variant, Omicron, plus all other variants of concern defined to date by the WHO, and we look forward to discussing these results with regulatory authorities around the world,” he said.

The preclinical data was generated through pseudo-virus testing of the combined known mutations of the Omicron variant, which included the maximum number of changes, or 37 mutations, identified to date in the spike protein.

“Sotrovimab is the first monoclonal antibody to report preclinical data demonstrating activity against all tested SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and interest to date, including Omicron, as well as the still prevalent and highly contagious Delta variant,” said George Scangos, Chief Executive Officer of Vir.

Sotrovimab is for people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of developing severe disease. It is a single monoclonal antibody and the drug works by binding to the spike protein on the outside of the COVID-19 virus.

The treatment is administered by intravenous infusion over 30 minutes and is approved for individuals aged 12 and above who weigh more than 40kg.

The MHRA had authorised the new therapy for use in the UK in people who have mild to moderate COVID-19 infection and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness.

Such risk factors include obesity, older age groups of 60 and above, diabetes mellitus, or heart disease.



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