Future variants of COVID are expected to be more transferable and perhaps better at evading the immune system. And they may even provide treatments for patients such as monoclonal antibodies that are “less effective,” the World Health Organization’s pandemic leader said Thursday.
“We’re still at risk for future variants, and we don’t know what the nature” of those variants is, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, said at a news conference.
Van Kerkhove said the WHO is looking at Omicron variants BA.5—now dominant worldwide—and its descendants, in addition to BA.2.75, also known as “Centaurus,” and its spawn, BA.2.75.2, among others.
The international health organization has tracked nearly 200 subvariants of Omicron, he said, adding that the virus “continues to circulate at a more severe level around the world.”
Some of the variants have already been flagged by experts as having the potential to cause, or at least contribute to, a COVID wave this fall and winter.
And one—BA.2.75.2—is particularly concerning for its potential to block the last monoclonal antibody treatment left in the COVID arsenal: Bebtelovimab.
Monoclonal antibody treatments, given to patients by infusion in a medical facility after they test positive, prevent a virus from entering cells, and, thus, can limit the amount of viral spread. in a body. Other similar COVID treatments such as REGEN-COV have been sidelined because they were found ineffective against Omicron.
“For the immunocompromised today, having monoclonal antibodies is one of the best ways to reduce infections,” Dr. Raj Rajnarayanan, assistant dean of research and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology campus in Jonesboro, Ark. luck earlier this week.
“If you take away the tool, it becomes a problem.”
It is unknown how effective the new Omicron boosters will be against BA.2.75.2, if at all.
But a new paper released this week by researchers at Imperial College London and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute highlight the new strain’s “great escape” ability. It called the Centaurus spawn “the most recent neutralization-resistant variant investigated to date,” and said it could also effectively evade immunity built up through vaccination and prior infection.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said in a interview this week that BA.2.75.2 appears “doubtful that it may begin to develop as another variant” which is of concern, when discussing strains with the potential to ignite a fall wave.