Lilly begins trial of COVID-19 antibody treatment

scientifically visualization of a coronavirus  spike protein

Eli Lilly has started dosing patients in the world's first trial for a medicine specifically designed to attack SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

This investigational treatment, referred to as LY-CoV555, is the first to come out of the collaboration between Lilly and AbCellera to create antibody therapies for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. 

Scientists developed the antibody in just three months after AbCellera and the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) identified it from a blood sample taken from one of the first US patients who recovered from COVID-19. 

AbCellera screened over five million immune cells looking for ones that produced functional antibodies that helped the patient neutralise the virus and recover from the disease. The company then identified over 500 unique fully human antibody sequences –  which it says is the largest panel of antiSARS-CoV-2 antibodies ever reported – before screening those antibodies to find the ones most effective in neutralising the virus.

Lilly has said that it has already begun large-scale manufacturing of the therapy.

“If LY-CoV555 becomes part of the near-term solution for COVID-19, we want to be ready to deliver it to patients as quickly as possible, with the goal of having several hundred thousand doses available by the end of the year," said Daniel Skovronsky, the company’s chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories.

If phase 1 results show the antibody can be safely administered, the company expects to move into the next phase of testing, studying LY-CoV555 in non-hospitalised COVID-19 patients. 

Lilly also plans to study the drug in a preventative setting, focusing on vulnerable patient populations who historically are not optimal candidates for vaccines.

The company wants to test other neutralising antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 over the next several months, including both single antibody therapies and combinations of Lilly antibodies (also known as antibody cocktails).

It is researching multiple other approaches to treating COVID-19, including repurposing existing Lilly medicines.