Power Players

Bill Gates: Don't call Trump’s coronavirus antibodies treatment a ‘cure’

Bill Gates

Billionaire tech icon and philanthropist Bill Gates says it is "inappropriate" to refer to the experimental coronavirus monoclonal-antibody treatment that President Donald Trump received earlier this month as a "cure."

"The word 'cure' is inappropriate, because it won't work for everyone," Gates said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. However, Gates also admitted that he believes the treatment administered to the president is likely the "most promising" of all the experimental coronavirus treatments currently in development.

For his part, President Trump has touted the experimental antibody cocktail he received from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals this month as "a cure" for Covid-19. However, Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer has been careful not to endorse those claims, arguing that more testing is required and that the treatment's apparent success with the president is "the weakest evidence you can get" of whether it is, indeed, an effective cure.

The president's treatment received some criticism due to the fact that Regeneron's antibody treatment has not yet been approved by the FDA. On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Gates noted that Regeneron's therapy is not yet widely available to the general public. 

"Well, very, very few people have had it because it's not approved, and the manufacturing is just ramping up," Gates said.

In addition to Regeneron's treatment, drug companies Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline are also testing their own monoclonal antibody treatments, with some experts viewing those trials as promising for producing a potential Covid-19 treatment.

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In his interview, Gates noted that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has "been working with companies doing antibodies. We reserved factory capacity all the way back in the spring, and now we're partnered with Eli Lilly, who with Regeneron, has been the fastest to get these antibodies ready."

Gates added that he is hopeful that the FDA can get enough scientific evidence from those companies' trials to allow for approval of a coronavirus treatment "in the next few months," especially with public health experts predicting another wave of coronavirus cases and deaths in the coming months.

Approval of an effective treatment for coronavirus "could reduce the death rate quite a bit ... so adding this to the tools would be a great thing," Gates said.

However, experts disagree about the effectiveness and practicality of therapeutic antibody treatments. For example, it's not clear who will be eligible to receive these treatments. Then there's the issue of scaling up manufacturing to get enough doses to treat patients, and determining the cost. Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said antibody treatments "will make a meaningful difference for people who are the highest risk of having a bad outcome," he said on CNBC's "Closing Bell" Friday. "But this is not going to end the epidemic."

Even with an effective coronavirus treatment that could help save lives among those infected with the disease, the pandemic is still likely to continue affecting the way people live their lives until a proven vaccine is discovered, Gates said.

"The only way we'll get completely back to normal is by having, maybe not the first generation of vaccines, but eventually a vaccine that is super effective, and that a lot of the people take, and that we get the disease eliminated on a global basis," Gates said. 

Gates, whose foundation has pledged at least $350 million to coronavirus vaccine and treatment research, said in September that he does not expect a vaccine to obtain regulatory approval until early-2021. That estimate syncs with a similar forecast from White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told Congress in September that the U.S. could have enough vaccine doses for every American by April 2021.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of both NBC and CNBC.

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