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Fears New Mutated COVID Virus Could Spread in Australia

According to Australian virologists, a drug-resistant mutation of the Covid-19 virus linked to the drug sotrovimab has been discovered, and the altered virus could spread in the community if patients receiving the treatment are not closely monitored.

The findings, which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, are the result of an examination of the first 100 patients in western Sydney who were given sotrovimab during the Delta outbreak in 2021.

Sotrovimab is a monoclonal antibody that is used to treat vulnerable people who are at danger of severe sickness and mortality as a result of Covid-19 infection. It is marketed in several countries.

Sotrovimab is an infusion that stops Covid-19 symptoms from getting severe if given within the first five days of infection.

It’s one of the few monoclonal antibodies made by humans that can target Omicron.

Dr. Rebecca Rockett, the study’s primary author, claimed that four of the patients showed resistance to sotrovimab six to thirteen days following treatment.

The full genome sequence of the virus was analysed before and after sotrovimab treatment in a few patients, revealing changes that “essentially rendered the medicine useless,” according to Rockett of the University of Sydney’s Institute for Infectious Diseases.

“We’re not sure if sotrovimab helps neutralise the virus early on in the infection before it develops resistance. But often drugs are given to treat Covid-19 patients and there’s not really any follow-up done. We realise that you can’t follow every patient with PCR testing or genomic surveillance, but we are trying to advocate for patients that progress to severe disease despite the treatment that we investigate using genomics to see whether they’ve acquired any resistance mutations.”

It was critical to keep track of them because even after the patients had acquired the mutations, Rockett and her team could still take samples and grow the virus in the lab, implying that they were still infectious.

It meant that the patients were at risk of infecting others with the altered virus.

“What we don’t want to see is resistant virus disseminating in the community, because that will mean that a lot of other people can’t use this drug as well.”

An infectious diseases physician and drug resistance expert with the Australian National University, Prof Peter Collignon, said potential spread of resistant viruses in the community presented “a real problem”.

“Thankfully, this mutation appears to be a relatively rare event, but the only way you ever know that is to keep an eye on it.”

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