October 23, 2020

Ayesha Sitlani, IAVI scientist

In August 2019, Ayesha Sitlani, Associate Vice President, Antibody Strategy, IAVI, introduced a new IAVI initiative: a project to understand the gaps and opportunities for sustainable and global access to monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). Mere months later, COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, would be declared a pandemic and the need for SARS-CoV-2 mAbs to prevent and treat COVID-19 would become an urgent global health priority. Today, there are more than 70 different mAbs in various stages of development for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19, including those discovered by a team of scientists including investigators from IAVI and Scripps Research.

mAbs are single antibodies expressed from identical immune cells that can be manufactured at commercial scale using cell systems. They have already transformed the way we treat cancer and autoimmune diseases. Currently available mAbs for such diseases are more effective than previously available therapies and are often better tolerated and easier to deliver.

Unfortunately, they are among the most expensive medicines in the world. The median price for mAb-based treatments in the U.S. ranges from $15,000 to $200,000 a year, and mAb sales are predominantly in the U.S., Canada, and Europe1. But as we have seen once again with COVID-19, an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere.

mAbs can be a complementary, life-saving treatment and prevention option for those at risk of COVID-19, including frontline health care workers and other vulnerable populations who might not respond as well to a vaccine2. mAbs can also be optimized and developed to provide sustained HIV protection to young women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa or administered as life-saving snakebite therapies to agricultural workers in rural India. By applying novel technologies and establishing innovative partnerships, IAVI is driving the development and global access of such mAbs for the treatment and prevention of infectious and neglected diseases such as COVID-19, HIV and snakebite envenoming.

The world is simultaneously faced with an unprecedented challenge and an equally unprecedented opportunity to slow or even stop existing and future disease outbreaks in their tracks — not just in wealthy countries, but across the world. But we must act now. Start by reading and sharing the four-point call-to-action by IAVI and Wellcome, a framework to ensure millions benefit from mAbs.

Learn more about IAVI’s ongoing efforts to develop, optimize, and manufacture affordable, globally accessible mAb products, together with our partners:


Further reading:

Antibodies for HIV prevention

Snakebite: The world's biggest hidden health crisis

1 https://www.iavi.org/phocadownload/expanding/Expanding%20access%20to%20monoclonal%20antibody-based%20products.pdf
2 https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200915.995263/full

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