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Do Regeneron's Antibodies Contain Stem Cells? What To Know About the Drug

regeneron antibody cocktail

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Key Takeaways

  • Regeneron is the name of the company that has developed an antibody cocktail that is aimed at treating COVID-19.
  • The antibody cocktail is not yet available to the general public. 
  • Though previously reported, Regeneron does not include stem cells.
  • While there have been promising results, it is still too soon to know whether or not Regeneron will be approved to treat COVID-19.

After reportedly testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, October 1, President Donald Trump received a variety of medications, including an antibody cocktail manufactured by biotechnology company Regeneron.

While some reports have stated Regeneron’s antibody cocktail contains embryonic stem cells and human fetal tissue, directly conflicting with the President's pro-life platform, Soma Mandal, MD, a board-certified internist at Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, says that’s not the case.

“The drug's potency was tested in a lab using HEK 293T cells,” Mandal tells Verywell. “This is a cell line which was originally derived from the kidney tissue of a fetus aborted in the Netherlands in the 1970s. The cells were used in the testing of the antibody; however, there is no fetal tissue in the final product.”

Mandal explains that because they are so adaptable, stem cells are often used to test new drugs for safety and effectiveness.

"The cells are typically programmed to acquire properties of the type of cells in the human body that are targeted by the drug," she says. "Heart cells, for example, would be generated to test a new drug for heart disease."

What Is the Regeneron Antibody Cocktail?

REGN-COV2, the name of Regeneron's antibody cocktail, is made of a combination of two monoclonal antibodies—laboratory-produced versions of the antibodies produced by the immune system to fight off infection. It's designed to block the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The use of monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV2 is considered to be a very promising approach for treating COVID-19,” Jimmy Johannes, MD, a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist, tells Verywell. Johannes is the principal investigator for a clinical trial research team at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center studying the two monoclonal antibodies developed by Regeneron. "Antibody treatments are a proven treatment approach with a strong history of safety and tolerability. One of the most important ways our immune system fights infections from viruses is by making antibodies against the virus."

According to a statement from George D. Yancopoulos, MD, PhD, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron, early data from 275 non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients shows that REGN-COV2 "rapidly reduced viral load and associated symptoms."

Yancopoulos says the drug appears most helpful for patients unable to clear the virus on their own.

"The greatest treatment benefit was in patients who had not mounted their own effective immune response, suggesting that REGN-COV2 could provide a therapeutic substitute for the naturally-occurring immune response," he says.

What the Regeneron Antibody Cocktail Is Not

In a White House video on October 7, President Trump said that while "they call [REGN-COV2] therapeutic, to me it wasn't therapeutic, it just made me better...I call that a cure.”

Experts warn against using such language, noting that while treatments and vaccines are being developed, COVID-19 has no cure.

"[It's] still too early to determine the success of the Regeneron antibody cocktail, despite the fact that President Trump received it," Mandal says. "The real evidence of the drug's effectiveness will come from larger randomized clinical trials which are ongoing."

Johannes agrees, adding that monoclonal antibodies have been successful at treating conditions like autoimmune diseases, various cancers, and asthma.

“Despite our optimism for the efficacy and safety of monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19, it is imperative that we prove that this approach is truly effective and safe with these randomized controlled trials," he says.

What's Next For Regeneron?

This month, Regeneron submitted a request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for REGN-COV2. Mandal says the antibody cocktail is not currently being administered widely to the general population.

“If a EUA is granted, the government has committed to making these doses available to the American people at no cost,” she says. “At this time, there are doses available for approximately 50,000 patients; doses for 300,000 patients are expected to be available within the next few months.”

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  1. Regeneron. Regeneron's REGN-COV2 Antibody Cocktail Reduced Viral Levels and Improved Symptoms in Non-hospitalized COVID-19 Patients. September 29, 2020.