- The U.S. government is spending $812.5 million to buy another 650,000 doses of Eli Lilly’s antibody treatment for coronavirus, adding to an earlier purchase of 300,000 vials.
- The therapy, bamlanivimab, won an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in November for patients with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 who are at high risk of worsening disease or hospitalization. A similar, rival treatment from Regeneron has since been cleared for use in a similar patient group as well.
- Both treatments offer the potential to keep COVID-19 patients out of the hospital, which could be particularly crucial over the next few months as U.S. healthcare facilities are stretched to their limits. But supplies of both remain tight at a time when nearly 200,000 infections are being reported in the U.S. each day.
The latest purchase brings U.S. government spending on coronavirus antibody treatments to more than $2 billion. Attention zeroed in on the therapies after doctors successfully used one from Regeneron to treat President Donald Trump. Soon after, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie received Lilly’s treatment.
The U.S. paid Lilly $375 million for the first batch of antibody treatments and has already allocated 215,000 treatment courses to states and territories. Regeneron and AstraZeneca, meanwhile, each received more than $400 million in government funding to help with manufacturing and development and promised the U.S. a combined 400,000 doses. Lilly, by comparison, didn't receive federal support for bamlanivimab.
But even hundreds of thousands of doses may not last long in the worsening pandemic. Just yesterday, states reported 196,000 new cases of COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Lilly said it expects to ship at least 350,000 vials under the new purchase agreement this month.
The U.S. government handles the distribution of the therapy, basing allocations on a formula that measures reported cases and hospitalizations. States and territories are then responsible for allocating supplies to health-care facilities.
From there, the use of the treatment gets more challenging. The special FDA approval requires doctors to identify high-risk patients who aren’t yet showing severe symptoms and haven’t been hospitalized. It’s also best given early in the course of the disease.
And bamlanivimab is not just a simple pill; the treatment requires an infusion in health-care facilities that are becoming overwhelmed by the pandemic. Facilities must have space to administer the drug in a way that “minimizes infection transmission” and have staff ready to treat severe infusion reactions that might occur, according to the U.S. government release.
Still, the demand seems likely to overwhelm supply with cases rising around the world. Lilly said it’s working to boost manufacturing capacity and expects to have much more of the treatment available in 2021. But two coronavirus vaccines nearing approval will likely also begin to ramp up next year as well, which could make antibody drugs like Lilly's less useful.
Lilly said the new purchase will add about $500 million in revenue and 25 cents a share in earnings to this year’s financial results.