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Covid variant found in South Africa ‘could evade’ Eli Lilly’s antibody drug: CEO



Eli Lilly Chairman and CEO Dave Ricks told CNBC on Tuesday he expects the company’s Covid-19 antibody drug to be effective against the coronavirus variant found in the U.K.

However, he said the strain found in South Africa likely presents greater challenges.

“The South African variant … is the one of concern. It has more dramatic mutations to that spike protein, which is the target” of these antibody drugs, Ricks said on “Squawk Box.” “Theoretically, it could evade our medicines.”

Eli Lilly’s antibody drug received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November. The drug is targeted toward people who are recently diagnosed with Covid-19, with the hopes of preventing the need for hospitalization. Regeneron‘s Covid-19 antibody treatment, which President Donald Trump received after contracting the disease, also has received limited clearance from the FDA.

Ricks said Eli Lilly wants to work with the FDA to be able to quickly test different versions of antibodies to see whether they would be effective against virus variants such as the one found in South Africa.

“We actually have a large library of these antibodies now that are sitting pre-clinically,” said Ricks. “We could think about a very expedited path to study them in maybe a month or two, and then authorize their use. That would seem to be a smart thing to do as this virus mutates.”

Discovery of variants

Coronavirus variants initially found in the U.K. and South Africa have garnered significant attention in recent weeks. They are believed to be more transmissible — but not more deadly — than previous strains. Even so, a more contagious virus that leads to more infections could further burden health-care systems and lead to more fatalities.

The discovery of these mutations also coincides with the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines from drug makers such as Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as Moderna. It has led to some questions about whether the vaccines — along with treatments for the disease — would retain their efficacy.

In a CNBC interview Monday, BioNTech CEO Dr. Ugur Sahin expressed confidence that its vaccine, produced in partnership with Pfizer, would work against the virus strains found in the U.K. and South Africa.

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day told CNBC it was testing its treatment remdesivir against those new strains, but he said Monday the antiviral drug would likely be effective. Antivirals such as remdesivir try to prevent the virus from replicating. By contrast, antibody drugs like Eli Lilly’s attach to the existing virus in the body and attempt to neutralize it. 

There have not been any confirmed cases of the variant first discovered in South Africa in America, but according to the Wall Street Journal, it has been detected in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Switzerland. In the U.S., there have been about 70 confirmed cases of the coronavirus variant initially found in the U.K., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It seems clear that the single antibody from Lilly, and probably the cocktail from Regeneron, will arrest that, just like it does the normal variant,” Ricks said of the strain linked to the U.K. “We haven’t done a clinical study to that effect, but we have pre-clinical data that is highly suggestive that that is not going to be an issue.”

Use of antibody therapies

After the FDA granted emergency use authorization to Eli Lilly and later Regeneron for their antibody therapies, challenges arose around actually delivering the drug, which requires intravenous infusion, to Covid patients. In mid-December, CNBC reported that between 5% to 20% of the delivered doses had been administered.

That figure is now “climbing,” Ricks said Monday. He pointed to Alabama as one state where the antibody drugs are being used widely. Alabama “basically runs out every week and gets refilled,” he said.

“There’s quite a range” from state to state, Ricks acknowledged. “We wish all states could learn from those practices and really use this medicine because the benefit is it keeps patients out of the hospital, particularly seniors. We know if you’re a senior and you have Covid-19 and you end up in a hospital bed, the outlook is not good.”

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PM tells business chiefs Covid jab is UK’s best way out of recession | Politics




Boris Johnson has told business leaders that efficient delivery of the coronavirus vaccine is Britain’s best economic recovery tool as he promised a sustainable fightback from the worst recession in 300 years.

The prime minister chaired the first meeting of a new business council designed to coordinate the government’s economic response to Covid-19 with leaders from the country’s biggest companies.

Aiming to reassure business leaders that the government remained committed to kickstarting the economy as soon as possible, Johnson told the executives from 30 major firms – including GlaxoSmithKline, British Airways and HSBC – that the government was looking ahead to the economic recovery and the business landscape after Brexit.

The prime minister said it was important for the government and businesses to work together to rebuild the virus-stricken economy, and that he would support job creation, upgrade Britain’s infrastructure, and launch a “green industrial revolution” to help the country “build back better” from the pandemic.

Despite recent border disruption and intense frustration among business leaders over the government’s handling of Brexit, Johnson told the first meeting of the “build back better council” that British industry had opportunities to seize from leaving the EU. Johnson had been reported in 2018 to have said, “Fuck business” when questioned about the sector’s concerns over a potential no-deal departure.

Sources attending the meeting said the government was in “sales mode” in a bid to strengthen relations with company bosses that had become increasingly tattered in recent years. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who also attended the meeting, told the leaders that effectively distributing the vaccine was the most important economic policy. Although no “big bang” removal of lockdown restrictions was expected, the chancellor suggested that vaccination would help to build a platform for a strong economic recovery in the second half of the year.

The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, the trade secretary, Liz Truss, and the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, also attended the meeting, which included representatives from firms from sectors of the economy including finance, energy, technology and hospitality.

Johnson told those present that with the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow this November and G7 summit in Cornwall in June, Britain had the potential to develop an influential voice in shaping a green recovery from the pandemic.

However, green groups said there was a telling lack of environmental leadership at the event despite its high-profile billing. Attendees included the chief executives of oil and gas group BP and of Heathrow, Britain’s largest airport.

“Boris Johnson’s ‘build back better council’ looks more like a polluters’ club,” said John Sauven, Greenpeace’s executive director. “It’s packed with some of Britain’s most polluting industries and investors, and green leadership is conspicuous by its absence.

“We can’t build back better by relying on the same old industries that are fuelling climate chaos and the destruction of nature. It’s high time the government stopped favouring the usual vested interests and gave its full support to the businesses building a cleaner, healthier, safer future.”

Connor Schwartz, climate lead at Friends of the Earth, said the government should be discussing green policies such as scrapping multi-billion-pound investment in road schemes and boosting investment in green technologies.

“This is a far cry from just two months ago, when the prime minister announced the need for a green industrial revolution,” he said. “Instead of listening to fossil fuel companies and airports, the government should turn their ear to the majority of the public who want climate change prioritised in the economic recovery to coronavirus.”

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The Guardian view on Boris Johnson’s plan: levelling down, not up | Boris Johnson




Today’s Conservative party is the opposite of what it pretends to be. Boris Johnson’s great crusade, he claimed, was to level up Britain. Coronavirus affects everyone, but not equally. Wealthier folk can shrug off the economic shock; the poor cannot. The best way to help those at the very bottom of society is to give them money directly. Whether it’s to feed hungry children or to ensure hundreds of thousands don’t slip into poverty by not cutting benefits from their current level, Mr Johnson seems unwilling to stump up the cash.

Yet the government seems unconcerned about losing £26bn because companies can’t pay back the Covid loans that the state guaranteed. It is puzzling that ministers cannot find a fraction of that for the poor. What is at stake is a conservative principle of personal responsibility: it is up to parents to feed their children and to get the cash to run their lives. Clinging to such ideas in the teeth of a pandemic appears foolish. But Mr Johnson’s skill in politics has been to reconcile apparently irreconcilable ideas.

The prime minister’s political concern is to entrench an economic doctrine even while it drags society under. His policies and instincts remain impeccably Thatcherite, but Mr Johnson knows that policies based on such ideas no longer possess any genuinely popular support. That is why he cloaks them in the flag of Brexit. During the 2016 referendum campaign, the current home secretary, Priti Patel, claimed that “single market” red tape cost the UK £125bn a year. Now, freed from the cage of EU membership, Mr Johnson has tasked his chancellor not with helping the poor, but to find the billions hiding in the paid holidays for workers, employment protections against the “Uberisation” of jobs and consumer rights against corporate bad actors. It was in the City where many saw in Brexit a way to escape EU regulations that had capped their worst excesses. Monopolists are also in for a bonanza: the day after Mr Johnson won the election was the busiest day of trading in UK shares for more than two years, with banks, housebuilders and utilities among the biggest winners.

To render irreversible a system that is at the height of its power but without wide appeal, the prime minister is using his powers of patronage to embed a “chumocracy” at the heart of government and allow Tory donors to be able to buy elections. The Conservatives want to increase the party limit on general election spending from the present £19.5m to about £33m, and abolish the electoral commission that oversees campaigning. The growing scandal of Covid contracts shows that there are unprecedented abuses of governance in this approach.

The rising inequality and unnecessary suffering produced by an unbalanced, financialised economy needs urgent attention and creative thinking. Since 2008, the Bank of England has created about £900bn of money through quantitative easing. For more than a decade, central banks have injected money into the economy without causing inflation. Why can they not print money and give it to the poor who are more likely to spend in a downturn than bankers are to lend? Unfortunately, Mr Johnson so far has little to fix Britain beyond doubling down on the economic orthodoxy that has broken society.

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Treasury minister downplays need for immediate tax rises | Politics




A Treasury minister has downplayed the need for immediate tax rises to tackle record levels of government borrowing caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jesse Norman said a rapid economic recovery from the worst recession for more than three centuries could help ministers avoid increasing the tax take in response to record borrowing levels.

Answering questions from the Commons Treasury committee amid mounting speculation that the March budget could be used to increase taxes, he told MPs: “It’s not absolutely obvious therefore that there may be any future need for consolidation, depending on the view you take of taxes.

“Of course we may end up with a somewhat delayed but nevertheless very pronounced bounce. There are features of the economy which would suggest that could be quite significant, if you look at the level of household savings, for example, and data like that.”

The comments follow weekend newspaper reports that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is preparing to raise taxes in the 3 March budget in order to bring down record levels of government borrowing. Sunak has warned that “hard choices” must be made to fix the public finances, and used his spending review in November to freeze public-sector pay and cut the overseas aid budget.

The UK’s budget deficit – the gap between spending and tax income – is on track to reach at least £394bn for the financial year ending in March, amid a rise in emergency spending during the crisis and collapse in tax receipts. The national debt – the sum total of every deficit – has risen to more than £2tn, equivalent to more than 100% of national output.

However, major tax increases might well provoke a swift Tory backlash. The chancellor has also been urged by leading economists to take advantage of record low borrowing costs and to steer clear of raising taxes or launching a renewed austerity drive to allow a sustainable economic recovery to take hold. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said £40bn in tax increases may be necessary in future to put the public finances back on a sustainable footing.

Downplaying the need for immediate action, Norman said the Treasury was still focusing on stabilising Britain’s economy amid elevated levels of Covid infections and tough government restrictions.

“We [need to] stabilise the economy and try to keep things moving forward before we can start thinking about the wider framework of policy. Although, as I’ve said, the chancellor does expect to think in terms of strong and sustainable public finances,” he said.

Mel Stride, chair of the Treasury committee, said: “I take away from this that it’s not a done deal that there will be tax rises. There are possibilities out there in terms of our recovery that might see us avoid what probably a lot of people are expecting. That remains to be seen.”

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