TRIALS for a new "antibody cocktail" drug will begin in the UK this weekend – and could prevent coronavirus for up to a year.
AstraZeneca's treatment is aimed at helping those with a weakened immune system who can't be vaccinated.
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It could also help the hundreds of thousands of Brits who are unlikely to respond to immunisation from the planned Covid vaccination.
A participant in Manchester will be the first in the world to receive the jab, which takes effect straight away and and could last between six months to a year.
The large-scale clinical trial will then recruit 5,000 participants, which includes 1,000 people from nine sites in the UK.
If successful, it could help prevent outbreaks in care homes, which have so far been ravaged by the disease.
The government is planning to secure access to one million doses if it work but it is not clear how much the jab will cost.
The aim of the trial is to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a combination of two long-acting monoclonal antibodies.
These are are man-made proteins that act like natural human antibodies in the immune system.
The drug can either be injected or administered intravenously.
Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said: "There is going to be a significant number of people – even in a world where vaccines are highly effective – who will not respond to vaccines, or in fact will not take vaccines.
"So having monoclonal antibodies as potential therapeutics is also important."
Researchers are hoping to sign up those who are at increased risk of Covid-19 or who are more likely to have an inadequate response to vaccination.
This includes people from health care and care home settings.
They are asking vulnerable people over 60 who are immuno-suppressed and at a higher risk of developing severe disease to enrol in the trial.
Initial results will be published in the first half of 2021, although the trial is expected to last for 12 months.
Kate Bingham, chairwoman of the UK's Vaccine Taskforce, said: "This is part of the portfolio to protect the whole UK.
"So, obviously, vaccines work in people who have a functional immune system.
"[But] if you are immuno-suppressed and you are going through bone marrow transplants, or indications or treatments that actually reduce your ability to mount an immune response, then this is basically the only current way of providing that short-term passive immunity.
"So we are absolutely looking to protect those people who are immuno-suppressed or those people who need immediate protection, because you will remember that vaccines typically take about six weeks to work."
It comes as leaked documents revealed every adult will be vaccinated against coronavirus by April.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last night the first Brit patients could get a vaccine in December, subject to approval.
He confirmed that the government has formally asked the regulator – the MHRA – to assess the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for use in the UK.
Pfizer announced it has applied to the US regulator to push through its Covid vaccine – found to be 95 per cent effective – for approval.
If the vaccine is approved in the US, it could be ready by mid-December offering hope Brits could get getting the jab in just a matter of weeks.
AstraZeneca's joint effort with Oxford University is also seeing a positive response – with an immune response triggered in people of all ages.
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