Lilly back in COVID-19 antibody game with $720M deal with U.S. for omicron-busting hopeful

Here comes Eli Lilly with yet another COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment. The company’s latest offering has yet to be authorized but is billed as effective against the omicron variant.

The U.S. has agreed to a $720 million deal for bebtelovimab, the company announced on Thursday. Lilly has submitted its request for an emergency use authorization, and contingent upon an FDA nod, the company will supply 600,000 courses of the treatment for high-risk patients with mild to moderate COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services said it would receive 300,000 courses this month, followed by 300,000 more by March 31. The U.S. will have the option to buy 500,000 more antibody courses to be delivered by July 31.

The agreement comes less than three weeks after the FDA banned the use of Lilly’s antibody cocktail of bamlanivimab and etesevimab, because it was ineffective against omicron. Regeneron’s antibody, REGEN-COV, also was grounded last month for the same reason.

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Lilly’s new antibody also has been shown to be effective against omicron’s subvariant, BA.2, which is believed to be more transmissible and has begun to appear in the U.S.

“Should the BA.2 subvariant grow in proportion in the U.S., this potential treatment will help ensure that we can continue to offer a monoclonal antibody treatment that works against that strain of the virus,” the HHS said in a statement announcing the deal.

The HHS will provide the treatment for free, it said. Lilly has been stockpiling the treatment, CEO David Ricks said last month in an interview for Fierce JPM Week.

Bebtelovimab is administered quicker and in a much lower dose than other antibody treatments, Ricks added.

“The challenge with 30- to 60-minute infusions right now is the capacity and accessibility to infusion sites during big outbreaks,” he said. “This has the potential to be administered in less than a minute.”

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Meanwhile, Lilly also is hoping for a full approval for baricitinib, also known as Olumiant, the company’s Incyte-partnered rheumatoid arthritis drug which, according to Ricks, has become the standard-of-care for late-stage patients on ventilators, as it reduces the risk of death by 46%.

Earlier this month, Lilly announced COVID-19 antibody sales of $2.24 billion for 2021, with $1.06 billion coming in the fourth quarter.