Eli Lilly drug first in series to be studied as coronavirus treatment by NIH

The National Institutes of Health will begin a wide-ranging series of studies on potential COVID-19 drugs called monoclonal antibodies, synthetic versions of  proteins produced by people who have recovered from the virus, it said this week.

Anthony Fauci, MD, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that monoclonal antibodies have great potential because they are specifically designed to block the virus from infecting a human cell, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

"Using an antibody generated by the immune system of a recovered COVID-19 patient gives us a jump-start on finding a safe and effective therapeutic," Dr. Fauci said in a news release. "Investigating a variety of different therapeutics, including monoclonal antibodies, will help ensure that we advance toward an effective treatment for people suffering from COVID-19 disease as quickly as possible."

Dr. Fauci's institute is sponsoring the trials, part of a government-industry collaboration called Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccine, or ACTIV. 

The trials will start by testing a monoclonal antibody made by Eli Lilly and will expand to study a series of other antiviral drugs, though officials declined to specify how many drugs will be included in the trial, the Journal reported. 

The Eli Lilly study will involve about 220 patients with moderate disease who don't require hospitalization. If safety is demonstrated in that trial, the study will expand to 2,000 patients. 

If the drug passes initial trials, a second study will test its efficiency in hospitalized patients. 

The goal of the Eli Lilly trial is to see if the drug can help people avoid hospitalization or death by day 28 of the trial. 

Eli Lilly also said Aug. 3 that it is testing the drug in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

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