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Trump's pursuit of coronavirus vaccine comes at the expense of therapies he now claims as a 'cure'

October 16, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, September 21, 2020, as he travels to Ohio. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

When President Donald Trump huddled with vaccine makers last spring, the CEO of Regeneron -- who landed an audience with the President after a private call to a well-placed White House adviser -- made the most of the chance to plug his company's coronavirus treatment.

(CNN)When President Donald Trump huddled with vaccine makers last spring, the CEO of Regeneron -- who landed an audience with the President after a private call to a well-placed White House adviser -- made the most of the chance to plug his company's coronavirus treatment.

Scientists inside and outside the government tried to prod the administration to aggressively invest in antibody treatments such as Regeneron's, but the Trump team waited months to ink a deal to invest in their manufacturing.

"It was very disappointing that the administration was only focusing on leaning forward on vaccines and not really choosing to do the same for antibodies," said Bright, who has since left the administration.

After taking a large dose of Regeneron's dual-antibody cocktail during his recent hospitalization for coronavirus, Trump has touted the treatment and pledged to expedite its approval.

Even if Regeneron's treatment or another antibody cocktail is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, there certainly won't be enough to treat anyone who falls ill with coronavirus.

"Since the very start of the pandemic, scientists have predicted monoclonal antibodies would be a very effective treatment as well as preventative measure against Covid-19 and yet the Trump administration seems to have focused its Operation Warp Speed almost entirely on vaccines," said Rep. Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat and member of the House coronavirus subcommittee.

To be sure, antibody cocktails were just one of many unproven treatments Trump was hearing about back in March and the administration inevitably had to choose to gamble on some and not on others.

Regeneron and Eli Lilly are both in the midst of clinical trials to test their antibody treatments in coronavirus patients and both companies have requested emergency use authorization from the FDA, which are pending.

Regeneron had effectively used the technology to develop a trio of antibodies that helped treat patients sick with the Ebola virus, which gave scientists hope that antibody treatments may work in the fight against coronavirus as well.

If the Trump administration had hoped to make antibody cocktails available for their widest possible set of people who might benefit -- anyone fighting Covid-19 or anyone living in close quarters with someone infected -- the administration would have had to pour money into the manufacturing process months earlier, experts said.

"It would've been nice retrospectively," the senior federal health official said, noting that there are limited supplies of Regeneron's antibody cocktail today.

But after securing an initial partnership with Regeneron in February to develop a coronavirus antibody treatment, Bright could not secure more government funds in the following months.

"I was pretty confident that if a monoclonal antibody would work for this virus that Regeneron would know how to make it," Bright said.

The race for a vaccine was also overshadowing the interest in investing aggressively in potential therapeutics like antibodies, the senior health official said, but added that was natural during a pandemic and in a fight against a virus like the coronavirus, where the odds of developing an effective vaccine are high.

Ultimately, the Trump administration did clear the way for drug companies developing antibody treatments to talk to each other about manufacturing issues without running the risk of violating antitrust laws.

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