Lilly drives more access to COVID-19 antibodies with new infusion centers

drug delivery
Lilly and Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 are delivered by infusion to non-hospitalized patients, creating unique challenges. (Chanintorn.v/Getty Images)

Eli Lilly's COVID-19 monoclonal antibody isn't getting as much use as it could, thanks to logistical hurdles. So the drugmaker is taking matters into its own hands.

The pharma, in partnership with local health systems, is setting up dedicated local infusion centers across its home state of Indiana, with centers already up and running in the central, northern and southern parts of the state. So far, the infusion centers have delivered antibody therapy to more than 1,700 high-risk Hoosiers with COVID-19, Lilly reported.

Lilly’s antibody treatment bamlanivimab, along with Regeneron’s combination imdevimab and casirivimab, both have FDA emergency use authorization to treat high-risk patients with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 who aren’t hospitalized.

But that’s also part of the problem. Infusions must be prescribed and administered in a hospital or clinic setting, but patients already admitted to the hospital with more severe cases of COVID-19 aren’t eligible.

RELATED: JPM: Regeneron execs say 'it's a problem' how few COVID-19 patients are getting antibody treatments

While Lilly is providing operational support to the three infusion sites in Indiana, it doesn't currently have plans to establish more pilot sites, a Lilly spokesperson said in an email. The pharma is sharing insights and lessons learned from the three sites with governments, health systems and other stakeholders.

"Our goal is to help gain learnings on how to effectively and quickly launch infusion sites and to share those learning with any hospital or health system willing to consider setting up their own sites. Lilly is proud to offer resources, available to any health system interested in setting up their own infusion site," the spokesperson said.

Regeneron applauded Lilly’s local infusion center effort. “We are continuing to work with federal/state governments, healthcare systems and individual providers to raise mAb awareness and ease the administration process, but don’t have a formal program like this to announce at the moment," a spokesperson said.

The logistics surrounding the new antibody treatments have proven daunting not only for patients and healthcare providers but also for the drugmakers. Without full FDA approval, both companies are also restricted in how they can promote the drugs.

Regeneron executives, speaking at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, said last month that the slow uptake of antibody therapies is "a problem."

Society has “to do a much better job” at getting antibody treatments to patients, R&D chief George Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., said, noting that Regeneron should work more closely with the U.S. government to figure out effective ways to get its cocktail to those who need it.

One direct way both companies are offering help is with a geolocation map. Lilly and Regeneron are co-sponsors of the National Infusion Center Association’s locator, which lists COVID-19 antibody availability, along with that of other infused drug treatments.

Specific to COVID-19 antibody treatments, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last month launched its own national online locator. Healthcare providers and patients can search for nearby healthcare facilities in the U.S. and its territories that HHS reports have received shipments of Regeneron or Lilly’s therapies.

HHS struck a deal to buy 300,000 Regeneron treatment courses initially, but has since added another 1.25 million, bringing the total potential purchase to more than 1.5 million doses. HHS has agreements with Lilly to purchase up to 3 million treatment courses. HHS' latest data shows that more than 785,000 total monoclonal antibody treatments have been shipped.

RELATED: With many Regeneron and Lilly antibodies going unused, new candidates aim to ease dosing and defeat variants

While this particular circumstance has presented its own outreach challenges, it’s not uncommon among pharma companies to facilitate access to treatment or testing through healthcare provider and patient resources.

Both Gilead and AbbVie, for instance, helmed hepatitis C testing efforts after both debuted therapies to treat the disease. AbbVie, for instance, drove a testing and education tour bus along with the American Legion across the U.S. in 2018 with free one-day test results.

Bayer, for its part, launched a “Test Your Cancer” awareness program in early 2019 to make people aware of genomic testing options for solid tumor cancer patients. Bayer and partner Lilly co-market Vitrakvi, approved to treat solid tumors with a neurotrophic receptor tyrosine kinase gene fusion, no matter the type.