Germany will become the first European Union country to start using the same experimental antibodies treatment credited with helping Donald Trump recover from Covid-19, health minister Jens Spahn said today.
“The government has bought 200,000 doses for €400 million,” Mr Spahn told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, working out at €2,000 per dose.
Patients will receive them free of charge, a health ministry spokeswoman told AFP.
Two different kinds of so-called monoclonal antibody therapies will be made available to university hospitals from the coming week, with Mr Spahn saying Germany was “the first country in the EU” to deploy them in the fight against the pandemic.
Both treatments have been approved for emergency use in the United States but have yet to receive the green light from European regulators.
The ministry spokeswoman said Germany’s national regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PIE), had determined that use of the drugs was “in principle” allowed on a case-by-case basis, decided by doctors, to prevent “severe illness or hospitalisations among certain risk groups”.
Germany has purchased doses of US firm Regeneron’s Casirivimab/Imdevimab antibody cocktail, as well US company Eli Lilly’s Bamlanivimab antibody drug, she added.
Mr Trump, who was briefly hospitalised with the coronavirus last October while he was US president, was treated with Regeneron’s therapy before it had gained formal authorisation.
He later said the medicine did “a fantastic job”.
Regeneron’s version is a combination or “cocktail” of two lab-made antibodies: infection-fighting proteins that were developed to bind to the surface protein of the coronavirus to stop it from invading human cells. The American firm has a plant in Limerick.
Eli Lilly’s therapy works in a similar way but uses a single synthetic antibody.
“They work like a passive vaccination. Administering these antibodies in the early stages can help high-risk patients avoid a more serious progression,” Mr Spahn told Bild.
Germany’s decision to use the drugs before the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has authorised them comes at a time of growing frustration over a slower-than-expected rollout of vaccines in the EU.
Vaccine makers Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca have both said they would be delivering fewer doses to Europe than anticipated in the short term because of production problems.
The German government has said it nonetheless expects to be able to offer all Germans a jab by the end of August.
Although Germany, the EU’s most populous nation and its biggest economy, coped relatively well with the first coronavirus wave last spring, it has been hit hard by a resurgence in cases in recent months.
The emergence of new, more contagious strains has added to concerns, prompting Germany to tighten travel restrictions and step up border controls.
Federal police on Sunday were carrying out checks at Frankfurt and Munich airports to ensure passengers arriving from around 25 “high risk” countries could produce a negative coronavirus test less than 48 hours old, and had complied with online registration requirements.
Germany has recorded over two million cases since the start of the pandemic, and more than 50,000 deaths.