Switzerland’s Roche developing ‘coronavirus-neutralising’ medication

Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Roche joined forces Wednesday with Regeneron to scale up supply of the US firm's REGN-COV2 medicine -- potentially both a prevention and treatment for COVID-19 infection.

Switzerland's Roche developing 'coronavirus-neutralising' medication
A Roche Pharma building in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

The two companies are teaming up to develop, manufacture and distribute the investigational combination of two antiviral antibodies.

The product “could provide a much-needed treatment option for people already experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and also has the potential to prevent infection in people exposed to the virus”, Roche said in a statement.

The medicine is being tested on humans in clinical trials for the treatment of COVID-19, and for the prevention of the new coronavirus in household contacts of infected individuals.

If it proves safe and effective and regulatory approvals are granted, Regeneron will distribute the product in the United States, while Roche will do the same in the rest of the world.

“We are excited about the potential for one medicine to serve both as a treatment for those infected, as well as protection for people exposed to the virus.

REGN-COV2 could be a critical line of defence against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Roche Pharmaceuticals chief executive Bill Anderson.

The collaboration should more than triple the current supply capacity of REGN-COV2, said Roche, with the potential for further expansion.

Regeneron scientists designed REGN-COV2 specifically to block the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.

In technical terms, the two virus-neutralising antibodies that form REGN-COV2 “bind non-competitively to the critical receptor binding domain of the virus's spike protein, which diminishes the ability of mutant viruses to escape treatment”.

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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad