US allows emergency use of first Covid-19 antibody drug

Experimental antibody drug is similar to the treatment given to Donald Trump

Donald Trump leaving the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda after being treated  for Covid-19. The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency authorisation for  a Covid-19 antibody treatment made by Eli Lilly that is similar to a therapy given to Mr Trump. Photograph: Doug Mills/the New York Times

Donald Trump leaving the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda after being treated for Covid-19. The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency authorisation for a Covid-19 antibody treatment made by Eli Lilly that is similar to a therapy given to Mr Trump. Photograph: Doug Mills/the New York Times

 

US regulators on Monday authorised emergency use of the first experimental antibody drug for Covid-19 in patients who are not hospitalised but are at risk of serious illness because of their age or other conditions.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorisation to Eli Lilly & Co’s bamlanivimab based on trial data showing that a one-time infusion of the treatment reduced the need for hospitalisation or emergency room visits in high-risk Covid-19 patients.

The drug is a monoclonal antibody – a widely used class of biotech drugs which in this case is a manufactured copy of an antibody the human body creates to fight infections.

A similar treatment developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals was given to US president Donald Trump after he caught the coronavirus in early October. The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said it likely it contributed to Mr Trump’s recovery.

The White House, in an emailed statement, hailed the FDA’s decision as “a major milestone”.

Regeneron is also seeking an emergency use authorisation for its dual antibody against Covid-19.

The FDA said Lilly’s antibody should be used for anyone over the age of 65 who was recently diagnosed with mild-to-moderate Covid-19 and for patients age 12 and older who have an underlying health condition putting them at risk for serious illness.

It was not authorised for hospitalised patients nor for those who required oxygen therapy due to Covid-19 as it could worsen clinical outcomes for such patients. A US government-sponsored study of bamlanivimab in hospitalised Covid-19 patients was recently abandoned because the treatment was not shown to be helping.

Lilly said it would begin shipping bamlanivimab immediately through distributor AmerisourceBergen, but regional allocations of the drug would be determined by the federal government.

The US government has purchased 300,000 doses of the treatment and committed that Americans will have no out-of-pocket costs for the medicine, although healthcare facilities may charge a fee for the product’s administration.

Lilly anticipates manufacturing up to one million doses of bamlanivimab by the end of 2020 for use around the world through early next year. Beginning in first-quarter 2021, it expects the supply to increase substantially as additional manufacturing resources come online.

Third party

Under the emergency use authorisation the FDA said Lilly would retain an independent third party to conduct a review of records and underlying data and associated discrepancies of the bamlanivimab drug substance manufactured at the company’s Branchburg, New Jersey, plant.

Reuters on October 13th reported that inspectors who visited the Branchburg plant in November 2019 found data on various manufacturing processes had been deleted and not appropriately audited, according to government inspection documents.

Lilly has said it plans to pursue a similar authorisation in November for its two-antibody cocktail, which it described as having helped reduce viral levels even more than the single-antibody treatment.

Shares of the Indianapolis drugmaker, which closed little changed at $142.33 in regular trading, were up 3.6 per cent after hours. – Reuters