Covid-19 roundup: New Omicron subvariant first found in India sparks debate on severity; Approval for Shionogi's oral treatment delayed
With the rise of Omicron last year, there have been a few subvariants introduced — especially BA.2 and BA.5 in the US. Now, there’s another one but it’s mostly confined to India.
BA.2.75, first discovered in late May/early June in India, is yet another subvariant of Omicron. Primarily dominant in India, samples have been found in Nepal, Japan, Australia, and other countries such as New Zealand and the US in low amounts.
Nicknamed “Centaurus,” the variant has concerned a few scientists. Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, told Science that the new variant does not look like a new Omicron variant — rather an entirely new variant in part to some major genomic changes.
“This looks exactly like Alpha did, or Gamma or Beta,” Peacock added.
Former Harvard Medical School professor William Haseltine wrote in an article at Forbes that an initial study looking at BA.2.75 indicated that only three treatments could be effective against the new subvariant if it becomes dominant: Celltrion’s regdanvimab, GSK and Vir’s sotrovimab, and tixagevimab, half of AstraZeneca’s Evusheld.
A study from the New England Journal of Medicine published yesterday noted that the dominant Omicron subvariant right now is less susceptible to Evusheld.
However, some people think that the subvariant will not catch on as the dominant variant of expression on the global/Western stage. As Scripps Research Translational Institute founder and director Eric Topol tweeted out:
BA.2.75 is a scariant. It is not spreading anywhere besides a couple of provinces in India without BA.5 to compete with. There will be other new variants to be concerned about but it doesn't look like this is one of them. https://t.co/zDACBOUMgR
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) July 19, 2022
South Africa’s CERI (Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation) director Tulio de Oliveira concurred.
I disagree that B.2.75 or Centaurus is of concern. In spite of media & Twitter hype:
1 – Very low increase of cases and deaths India
2 – B.2.75 is not increasing in prevalence anywhere
3 – No data suggesting change in neutralization or pathogenicity.
Don’t Believe the Hype! https://t.co/Sv4dawhbAj
— Tulio de Oliveira (@Tuliodna) July 18, 2022
BA.5 is currently the dominant variant in the US, making up more than 50% of all Covid-19 cases. BA.2 used to be more dominant in early 2022, as one of the treatments for it, GSK and Vir’s sotrovimab, was pulled from the market in April due to the lost efficacy. While the pair hasn’t given up on sotrovimab — looking to file for full FDA approval this year — several therapies in the US armamentarium in the fight against Covid-19 have been rendered less effective against BA.2.
Shionogi share price falls after health ministry delays approval Covid-19 oral treatment — report
Shionogi’s Covid-19 oral treatment did not win approval for emergency use.
A report from Reuters indicated that Shionogi’s treatment failed to get the nod from a health ministry panel — leading the biotech’s share price to initially fall 15% before slowing coming back up.
The panel voted to wait for more data from ongoing clinical trials and continue discussions on the drug, according to Reuters. The report also noted that the Japanese biotech was looking to have the third oral pill approved in the country to treat Covid-19 — behind Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s Lagevrio.
The biotech announced a year ago that it was starting clinical trials, putting itself months behind the two Big Pharma competitors.
The report also noted that Shionogi had signed an agreement to sell close to a million doses to the Japanese government, pending the drug’s approval. This delay was also not the first delay for the biotech — as Reuters noted, “Last month a health ministry panel postponed a ruling on the drug because of uncertainty over its effectiveness, as well as animal studies showing it could pose a risk to pregnancies.”