Covid vaccine and blood cancer
Antibody treatments for people with blood cancer
The latest information about other options for protecting people with blood cancer, if the covid vaccines don't work for everyone.
Page updated 21 September 2021
Will the covid vaccines work for people with blood cancer?
Research so far suggests that the covid vaccines may not work for everyone with blood cancer. Find out more about covid vaccine effectiveness in people with blood cancer.
If the covid vaccines don’t work fully in people with blood cancer, we need other treatments to protect them. This page is about the treatments currently being researched and what we know so far.
Antibody treatments to treat people with blood cancer who get covid
Antibody treatments can be used to treat covid in people once they are infected. This is an important option for people with blood cancer, who are at a higher risk of getting severe covid. An antibody treatment can give your body the covid antibodies it needs to fight the illness. This is particularly important for people with blood cancer, whose immune systems may not be able to develop its own covid antibodies after vaccination.
There are a few antibody treatments that can be given to people in hospital to treat covid, such as sarilumab and tocilizumab, which are arthritis medicines. These treatments were found to reduce the risk of death for patients in intensive care.
But recently, for the first time, a new antibody treatment that has been specifically developed for treating covid has been approved for use in the UK. It is called Ronapreve.
On 17 September 2021, the UK government announced that people who are immunocompromised (who haven't been able to develop covid antibodies after infection or vaccination) should be given Ronapreve if they are in hospital with covid. Ronapreve is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies called casirivimab and imdevimab.
In clinical trials, Ronapreve was shown to reduce hospitalisation and death in people with covid, and to prevent illness in close contacts of infected people. In another trial called RECOVERY, Ronapreve was found to reduce the number of deaths in hospitalised covid patients who did not mount their own immune response.
Guidance will soon be sent to clinicians so they can begin prescribing the treatment as soon as possible. We are talking to the NHS and government about ensuring clinicians know how to access and prescribe Ronapreve.
It will be offered to people in hospital with covid who are aged 50 and over, or aged 12 to 49 and are immunocompromised, if tests show they don't have antibodies to SARS CoV-2.
Antibody testing will first be used to check whether patients have covid antibodies. If they don't, then Ronapreve will be given through a drip. The antibodies stick to the virus’s spike protein and stops it from being able to infect the body’s cells.
If you have blood cancer and you go to hospital with covid, make sure the hospital knows you have blood cancer and that you should be tested for antibodies and possibly receive Ronapreve. You could take a letter from your hospital or GP with you, to show your medical department contact details or diagnosis. Make sure you take your main doctor or medical team's contact details with you. Or, use our medical information card (just download it and fill in your details, then print it or take a photo on your phone).
Ronapreve is medically licensed both for treating patients with confirmed covid, and for preventing covid in people exposed to the virus. So far, the UK government has only recommended it for treating covid, not preventing it. The UK has secured enough supply to use Ronapreve for treating hospitalised vulnerable patients.
Antibody treatments to prevent covid in people with blood cancer
There are some antibody treatments being researched, which could prevent covid in people with blood cancer.
These treatments are different from the covid vaccines, but they have the same aim – to stop people with blood cancer getting ill from covid.
While the covid vaccines rely on your body’s immune system to create antibodies that can fight covid, these treatments will deliver the covid antibodies into your body. This means that if your immune system isn’t working properly (the case for many people with blood cancer) then while the vaccine might not work, an antibody treatment can.
The government's Antivirals Taskforce is looking at treatments that could prevent covid-19 in people who are exposed to it. They are hoping to find new treatments that people could take at home (such a tablets) to prevent hospitalisation from covid. Sir Patrick Vallance has said “Antivirals in tablet form are another key tool for the response. They could help protect those not protected by or ineligible for vaccines.”
Read more about the Antivirals Taskforce and possible new treatments.
Monoclonal antibody treatment from AstraZeneca (PROVENT trial)
For the first time, a long-acting antibody treatment has been found to prevent covid in people who take it.
This trial called PROVENT was testing an antibody treatment called AZD7442, made by AstraZeneca.
In the trial, two thirds of people were given the antibody treatment AZD7442, and one third weren’t. The groups were then monitored to see how many people in each group got covid. The aim was to see whether giving this treatment to people could prevent them getting covid.
The trial found that there was a 77% reduced risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 in people who had the treatment.
In people treated with AZD744, there were no cases of severe COVID-19 or COVID-19-related deaths. In the group who weren’t treated, there were three cases of severe COVID-19 and two deaths.
The trial involved over 5,000 people who did not have covid at the time and had not already had covid vaccines. Approximately 43% of participants were 60 years and over. More than 75% of participants had other health conditions that put them at a higher risk from covid, including people with immunosuppression due to disease or treatment.
The treatment, AZD7442, is a combination of two long-acting antibodies called tixagevimab and cilgavimab. These are called human monoclonal antibodies. They were taken from blood donations from other people who had covid themselves and developed the antibodies.
This treatment is thought to give protection for up to 12 months. It is given using two injections into a muscle. In the trial, people tolerated the drugs well and there were no serious side effect concerns.
Myron J Levin, principal investigator on the trial, said: “With these exciting results, AZD7442 could be an important tool in our arsenal to help people who may need more than a vaccine to return to their normal lives.” See the press release about this trial.
AstraZeneca have said they will now prepare to submit their trial results to the regulators (MHRA in the UK) to seek approval to make this drug available to people. If the MHRA approves its use, the government and health departments will need to plan how to roll out this medicine to people in the UK.
We will monitor this closely and update our information as soon as we hear more, but this is positive news for people with blood cancer.
What other research is happening for people with blood cancer?
Blood Cancer UK are funding and coordinating research into how covid is affecting people with blood cancer, and how well the covid vaccines are working. Together with other charities, we are investing £800k in vaccine efficacy research.
We report on our own research findings, and findings from other key studies. Find out what we know so far about covid vaccine efficacy for people with different blood cancers.
Fund blood cancer research
The day we beat blood cancer is now in sight, but we need your help to get there.
Support for you
Coping with the lifting of restrictions across the UK is understandably difficult if you have blood cancer. We have more information about coping with risk and uncertainty as restrictions are lifted.
Talking to other people with blood cancer is helpful. You can do this on our Online Community Forum.
Keep updated about coronavirus and blood cancer
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The following companies have provided funding for our coronavirus support, but have had no further input: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Gilead, Incyte, Kyowa Kirin, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, Takeda.