Eli Lilly's COVID-19 antibody picks up $871M in Q4—and carries blockbuster hopes for 2021

Eli Lilly's COVID-19 antibody stole the show during the fourth quarter, and the company says there's more to come as the U.S. government just placed another big order—and Lilly itself projects blockbuster coronavirus revenues in 2021.

Lilly's first COVID-19 antibody, bamlanivimab, generated $871 million in fourth-quarter revenues, driving the drugmaker to a 22% revenue increase for the period. Excluding the COVID-19 antibody, Lilly’s revenues grew 7%.

The company isn't alone in seeing a big sales bump from pandemic drugs, vaccines and diagnostics. Last year, Gilead's antiviral remdesivir provided a sizable revenue contribution in the third quarter. Meanwhile, vaccine rollouts are underway that analysts project will deliver billions of dollars—or potentially tens of billions—in sales for leading players in the coming years. Moderna's CEO has said his company could leap into the ranks of the world's largest vaccine players by sales this year.

For its part, Eli Lilly has been selling antibody doses to the U.S. government for months; this week, the government agreed to purchase another 500,000 doses. The company said it has already delivered 950,000 doses and will deliver the next batch by March 31. For all of 2021, Lilly expects to record between $1 billion and $2 billion in COVID-19 sales. 

Lilly’s bamlanivimab carries an FDA emergency use authorization in mild-to-moderate COVID-19 when patients are at a high risk of going on to severe disease. But because the drug is infused and those patients aren’t typically in an infusion setting when they're diagnosed, uptake has been lower than expected. The company and health officials are working to boost use of the drug, including through a possible shortening of the medicine's infusion time to 16 minutes—down from 60 minutes.

RELATED: Lilly and Regeneron COVID-19 antibodies are available all over the U.S. Why aren't they getting to more patients? 

Also this week, the company said its combo of bamlanivimab and another antibody, etesevimab, slashed the risk of hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk coronavirus patients. In a trial of more than 1,000 patients, 11 who received the antibody combo were hospitalized and none died. That compared with 26 hospitalizations and 10 deaths among placebo patients. The combo is under review at the FDA for a potential emergency authorization as a treatment for high-risk patients.

The data “further support our belief that bamlanivimab and etesevimab together have the potential to be an important treatment that significantly reduces hospitalizations and death in high-risk COVID-19 patients,” Lilly chief scientific officer Dan Skovronsky said in a statement.  

The company is partnered with Amgen to make up to 1 million doses of the cocktail this year. 

RELATED: Lilly antibody combo slashed COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations in high-risk patients 

Outside of COVID-19, Lilly’s suite of new medicines launched since 2014—including Trulicity, Verzenio, Taltz and Emgality—chipped in 12 percentage points of growth and represented about half of the company’s revenues in the fourth quarter.

Overall, Lilly pulled in $24.54 billion in global sales last year, a 10% jump from the prior year despite the pandemic. The company expects between $26.5 billion and $28 billion in overall sales this year. 

About a year into the pandemic, there's already precedent for companies earning big revenues on COVID-19 drugs and vaccines. Gilead Sciences pulled in $873 million during the first full quarter of remdesivir sales, and Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have all started delivering on billions of dollars of vaccine orders. Analysts have projected multibillion-dollar revenue opportunities for numerous vaccine makers in the coming years.