A new cure?

Hopes raised over Brii Bioscience’s Covid treatment


Will new Chinese vaccines and treatments end the ‘zero-Covid’ policy?

Amubarvimab/Romlusevimab is a mouthful in any language. But this domestically-produced antibody treatment could be another important step in China’s long path back to normality after the pandemic.

Invented by Hong Kong-listed Brii Biosciences, this new therapy can reduce the incidence of hospitalisation and death from Covid-19 infection by up to 80%, the company says.

Such claims seem bold, given the huge progress already made fighting the effects of the disease around the world. But China’s huge population hasn’t reached meaningful group immunity to Covid-19, so any wave of mass infection could still result in larger numbers of hospitalisations and fatalities.

“Despite the progress being made with vaccines, the pandemic continues to affect the health of communities in China, and we believe that the new combination treatment has the potential to bring significant clinical benefits to patients in need,” said Zhu Qing, head of Biopharmaceutical Research at Brii Bio, in a company press release.

Around 90% of the Chinese population has been vaccinated with locally developed vaccines, but most have only had one or two doses of locally-made Sinovac (the medical consensus is that a minimum of three jabs are required for Sinovac to be as effective as MRNA vaccines made by the likes of BioNTech).

This means huge numbers of Chinese could become sick if the country were to relax its strict anti-Covid protocols and let the virus spread through the community (Hong Kong ended up with something akin to that latter outcome in March but got to that point after a large proportion of the city’s residents had already been multi-jabbed with Pfizer vaccines; the result was that local hospitals weren’t overwhelmed even though over half the population – an estimated four million – were probably infected).

Offering more effective Covid medications is another step – alongside triple-jabbing the population with vaccines – towards an eventual easing of the ‘zero-Covid’ approach. Brii Biosciences’s new therapy combines two types of monoclonal antibody – Amubarvimab and Romlusevimab – which work by neutralising Corona antigens as they attempt to multiply in the body

The new combo was commercially approved in China on July 7, causing Brii Biosciences’ share price to spike. The new drug can be injected up to 10 days after infection to prevent a worsening of the patient’s condition. But it can also be given as a prophylactic to at-risk groups, National Business Daily reports.

Despite the promising results, some questioned why domestic Covid treatments were taking so long to be introduced – be they the first China-developed MRNA vaccine or this latest antibody mix.

“The new coronavirus is still mutating. As far as neutralising antibody drugs are concerned, the most worrying thing is that after the virus mutates, the original binding site of the antibody changes, which makes it difficult to bind and easy for the virus to escape,” also wrote in a call for a wider roll out of newer medicines as quickly as possible.

Scientists from Brii said that, so far, their antibody combination was holding up against new Covid variants, however.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.