A medical worker drops a Covid-19 test sample into a plastic bag at a testing site in Berkeley, California, US | Photographer: David Paul Morris | Bloomberg
A medical worker drops a Covid-19 test sample into a plastic bag at a testing site in Berkeley, California, US (representational image) | David Paul Morris | Bloomberg File Photo
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New Delhi: US-based drug company Eli Lilly and Co. has said it could have a drug designed to treat Covid-19 available for use as early as September.

In an interview with Reuters, the drug company’s chief scientist said that they could have a possible treatment for the virus available if all goes well with the two antibody therapies it is testing.

Lilly is also doing preclinical studies of a third antibody treatment for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus that could enter human clinical trials in the coming weeks, Chief Scientific Officer Daniel Skovronsky said.

It has reportedly already launched human trials with two of the experimental therapies.

One of them, currently designated as LY-CoV555, is being developed in partnership with Canadian biotech AbCellera.

The other, JS016, is being developed with Chinese drugmaker Shanghai Junshi Biosciences.

“Both work by blocking part of the virus’ so-called spike protein that it uses to enter human cells and replicate,” noted the Reuters report.


Also read: Covid cases in South Asia are rising at the fastest rate in the world


The drugs are monoclonal antibodies

According to the report, the drugs that are being tested belong to a class of biotech medicines called monoclonal antibodies, that are widely used to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and many other such conditions.

The report stated that a monoclonal antibody drug is likely to be more effective than repurposed medicines currently being tested to treat Covid-19.

If the therapies are effective, according to Skovronsky, they could be used to prevent the virus as well, and thus could beat a vaccine to widespread use as treatment.

“For the treatment indication, particularly, this could go pretty fast,” said Skovronsky

“If in August or September we’re seeing the people who got treated are not progressing to hospitalisation, that would be powerful data and could lead to emergency use authorisation,” he added.

“So that puts you in the fall time: September, October, November is not unreasonable,” he said.


Also read: Russia approves levilimab for treating severe Covid-19 patients, says it reduces death risk


Making a drug that works well for Covid-19 patients

Lilly also said that it is working to ensure that the drugs can work as standalone therapies against the virus. These drugs are usually administered as infusions, but the process is complicated and the capacity is limited.

“It’s good to have two antibodies. The downside is that manufacturing is precious. We have limited manufacturing capacity. If two antibodies are required, half as many people will get treated,” Skovronsky said.

“So our goal is to see if we can do one antibody at as low a dose as possible,” he told Reuters.

The drug-manufacturing firm also claimed that it will have the capacity to make hundreds of thousands of doses by the end of the year if it can treat Covid-19 patients using a single antibody drug rather than a combination.

However, they also noted the limitations of manufacturing antibody treatments, for wide scale use as prophylactics. Prophylactics are drugs used to prevent a disease.

“Global capacity for antibodies is just not high enough that we could ever think about adequate doses” for “billions of people in the prophylactic setting,” noted Skovronsky.

He said that a better solution would be to widely inoculate people with vaccines when available, and reserve antibody treatments for people who have the disease or were recently exposed to it.

Skovronsly also claimed that this could help vulnerable populations where vaccines are less effective, such as nursing home patients.

According to Reuters, Lilly hopes to conduct a Covid-19 prevention clinical trial in nursing home patients later this year.

The Indianapolis-based drugmaker plans to produce the medicines in plants in Kinsale, Ireland and New Jersey in US, and is also willing to use its capacity to help manufacture another company’s successful treatment, should Lilly’s fail in clinical trials, the report added.

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