A drug given to former US president Donald Trump when he had coronavirus last year is to be rolled out to vulnerable NHS hospital patients.
Last month, UK health secretary Sajid Javid heralded Ronapreve as the first treatment designed specifically for Covid-19 to receive regulatory approval in the UK.
The UK department for health and social care (DHSC) said on Friday that it had the potential to benefit thousands of patients, with its rollout initially targeted at those who have not mounted an antibody response against Covid-19.
It will be used to treat patients without antibodies who are aged 50 and over, and those aged 12 to 49 who are immunocompromised.
The British government has bought enough of the drug to treat eligible hospital patients across the UK from next week, the department said.
Mr Javid said: “We have secured a brand new treatment for our most vulnerable patients in hospitals across the UK and I am thrilled it will be saving lives from as early as next week.
“The UK is leading the world in identifying and rolling out life-saving medicines, particularly for Covid-19, and we will continue our vital work to find the best treatments available to save lives and protect the NHS.”
In August, the medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency (MHRA) said the clinical trial data it assessed showed that Ronapreve can be used to prevent infection, treat symptoms of serious infection and cut the likelihood of being admitted to hospital.
Trials took place before widespread vaccination and before the emergence of virus variants.
The drug, a combination of two monoclonal antibodies, became the first monoclonal antibody combination product approved for use in the prevention and treatment of acute infection from the virus in the UK.
Monoclonal antibodies are man-made proteins that act like natural human antibodies in the immune system.
The MHRA said that the drug, developed by pharmaceutical firms Regeneron and Roche and previously known as REGN-Cov2, is given either by injection or infusion and acts at the lining of the respiratory system where it binds tightly to the virus and prevents it from gaining access to the cells.
DHSC said immunocompromised people include those with certain cancers or autoimmune diseases who have difficulty building up an antibody response to the virus, either through being exposed to Covid-19 or from being vaccinated.
Antibody testing will first be used to determine whether patients are “seronegative” – meaning they have not had a sufficient antibody response.
The treatment antibodies, casirivimab and imdevimab, will then be administered through a drip.
DHSC said guidance will be sent to clinicians so they can begin prescribing the treatment “as soon as possible”.