Let’s Get Real About the President’s Antibody Treatment

Let’s Get Real About the President’s Antibody Treatment

THE PRESIDENTclaimed on Wednesday that he’d had a rapid “cure” from Covid-19, thanks to an experimental drug from Regeneron that’s “like, unbelievable!” Trump also said he has “emergency use authorization all set” for the treatment, and Regeneron quickly followed by requesting that approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. But the real miracle would be if we were that good at predicting which drugs are going to make a real difference this early on in the research and development process. We’re not. That’s why dosing up on unproven therapies isn’t good medicine.

The Regeneron drug, like another in development by Eli Lilly, consists of a pair of monoclonal antibodies. Just to give you an idea of how thoroughly it’s been tested, the only data available so far—sketchy details of which were released last week via press release, not through a medical journal—mention only six people in Trump’s age group who received the same dose that he did. Preliminary findings from Eli Lilly are also limited to a press release, and, taken together, the treatment groups for these two experimental drugs include fewer than 300 people. Now, if the drugs had a dramatic effect on the disease, it might be clear even in small amounts of data. But that’s not the case here, at least so far. What’s more, the Eli Lilly trial is not designed to test effectiveness, while the Regeneron report describes only about one-quarter of the patients it would need to show whether the treatment works.