Eli Lilly and Company said Monday it has started the first human trial of an antibody therapy designed to treat Covid-19.
The first phase of the trial will test whether the therapy is safe and well-tolerated; those results are expected in late June. The first Covid-19 patients being treated with the therapy are hospitalized at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine in New York, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and Emory University in Atlanta, the company told CNN.
If the trial ultimately shows the treatment is effective against Covid-19, it could be available by autumn, according to the Indianapolis-based company.
“Until now, scientists have been trying to repurpose medicines, drugs, that were designed for new diseases to see if they work in Covid-19, but as soon as this epidemic started, we got to work making a new medicine against this disease,” said Dr. Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly’s senior vice president and chief scientific officer.
“Now we’re ready and testing it in patients.”
The treatment was created in collaboration with AbCellera, a biotechnology company based in Canada. When someone recovers from a disease like Covid-19, their body produces millions of proteins called antibodies, which fight off the disease and help them recover. AbCellera acquired a blood sample from one of the first US patients who had recovered from Covid-19, and the companies sorted through millions of this patient’s cells to find hundreds of antibodies.
Scientists at AbCellera and the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases selected those they thought would be most potent and Lilly scientists engineered the treatment, known as a monoclonal antibody therapy. This approach has worked to treat other illnesses; there are monoclonal antibody therapies that treat HIV, asthma, lupus, Ebola and some forms of cancer.
It’s not clear if such a therapy will work against Covid-19, but when this treatment was used on on cells in the lab, it blocked the ability of the virus to infect the cells, Skovronsky said. The data is not yet published, but based on those results, scientists got the green light to take the next step and prepare it to be tried in patients.
They also gave it a temporary name.
“We call it LY-CoV555, lucky triple 5,” Skovronsky said.