Eli Lilly says antibody combo significantly cuts COVID-19 death risk

Eli Lilly says antibody combo significantly cuts COVID-19 death risk
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A combination treatment of two monoclonal antibodies developed by Eli Lilly can significantly reduce hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19, the company announced Tuesday.

The results from a final-stage clinical trial of more than 1,000 patients testing the combination of bamlanivimab and etesevimab found just 11 hospitalizations in patients taking the therapy, compared to 36 events in patients taking a placebo, a 70 percent reduction compared to a placebo.

There were 10 deaths total, all of which occurred in patients taking placebo, and no deaths in patients taking bamlanivimab and etesevimab together.

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Lilly said the trial also demonstrated "strong evidence that the therapy reduced viral load and accelerated symptom resolution."

Monoclonal antibodies could be an important stopgap treatment for people with COVID-19, especially with the limited vaccine supply and troubled initial rollout.

Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly's chief scientific officer, said the results "add valuable clinical evidence about the role neutralizing antibodies can play in fighting this pandemic."

The announcement comes just days after Lilly reported that treatment with bamlanivimab alone cut nursing home staff and residents’ risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 infections by 57 percent against placebo. 

With the new data, Lilly could ask the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the treatment as a preventive measure. Currently, bamlanivimab is authorized for emergency use for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in high-risk patients.

However, there are obstacles to making antibody treatments widely available. Current supply is limited, and because they are infusion drugs, antibodies need to be administered in the proper setting. 

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Getting patients to an infusion center or hospital is difficult, especially as the out-of-control pandemic is putting a massive strain on hospitals and health workers. Experts have called for a better system to make sure the drugs can reach the patients who need them the most.

In a similar announcement Tuesday, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals said preliminary results of a small trial run jointly with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showed its antibody treatment reduced COVID-19 by half in people at high risk of infection 

None of the 186 patients receiving the drug developed symptoms from the virus, Regeneron said.

Regeneron said the infections in the treatment group lasted no more than a week, while approximately 40 percent of infections in the placebo group lasted three to four weeks.

The Regeneron trial tested the antibody treatment for use as a "passive vaccine," which involves directly injecting antibodies into the body. Traditional vaccines rely on a person's immune system to activate and develop its own antibodies.

According to the company, the treatment may provide immediate benefits, in contrast to active vaccines which take weeks to provide protection. 

"Even with the emerging availability of active vaccines, we continue to see hundreds of thousands of people infected daily, actively spreading the virus to their close contacts. The REGEN-COV antibody cocktail may be able to help break this chain by providing immediate passive immunity to those at high risk of infection," George Yancopoulos, president and chief scientific officer at Regeneron, said in a statement.

In addition, the treatment was given as injections rather than an infusion, which could make administering it more convenient. 

Regeneron is supplying the federal government up to approximately 1.5 million doses of the antibody cocktail for treatment of COVID-19. Similar to Lilly's drug, Regeneron's antibody treatment is authorized for people with mild or moderate disease who are not yet hospitalized, but are at high risk of developing severe symptoms and requiring hospitalization.

Regeneron said it would discuss the interim results with the FDA to potentially expand the current authorization. Full data from the trial is expected early in the second quarter.