FDA shelves Eli Lilly's COVID antibody bebtelovimab as evasive subvariants take hold

As the year comes to a close and the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to fade, the last authorized antibody treatment in the U.S. is being sidelined.

Wednesday, Eli Lilly’s bebtelovimab became the latest COVID-19 treatment to get its emergency use authorization pulled by the FDA. In doing so, the agency cited data showing the antibody struggles with the omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.

Bebtelovimab is “not expected to neutralize Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.” the FDA said in a recent statement.

For its part, Lilly said it agrees with the agency's assessment and has paused commercial distribution of the antibody until further notice.

“Lilly continually monitors the global COVID-19 environment, assessing the neutralization activity of potential antibody therapies against a wide array of existing and emerging mutations and variants," the company said in a statement. Elilly will “continue to search and evaluate monoclonal antibodies to identify potential candidates for clinical development against new variants.”

The antibody originally secured its emergency use authorization in February, one day after Lilly inked a $720 million supply deal with the U.S. for 600,000 courses of the drug.

At the time, the antibody was shown to be effective against omicron subvariant BA.2, which had just begun its spread across the nation.

The bebtelovimab deal came a few weeks after the company’s bamlanivimab and etesevimab combo was banned because of limited effectiveness against omicron.

With this week's development, the last antibody treatment has been knocked out of the ring. Evolving virus strains have forced out treatments from Regeneron, GSK and Lilly throughout the pandemic. Remaining products that are still FDA authorized to treat COVID-19, even in its latest subvariants, include Pfizer’s Paxlovid, Gilead Science’s Veklury and Merck & Co.’s Lagevrio.

AstraZeneca's Evusheld is also still authorized, but it's used as preexposure prevention tool for people with weakened immune systems who don't respond adequately to vaccines.