Eli Lilly's combo therapy for COVID-19 cuts serious illness and death in large study

By Carl O'Donnell and Michael Erman

(Reuters) - Eli Lilly and Co said on Wednesday that its combination antibody therapy to fight COVID-19 reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 87% in a study of more than 750 high-risk COVID-19 patients.

It is the second large, late-stage study to show that combination therapy of two antibodies, bamlanivimab and etesevimab, is effective at treating mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.

The previous study, which published data in January, used a higher dose of the drugs and reduced risk of hospitalization by 70%.

"I expect this data to continue to drive more utilization" of the antibodies," said Daniel Skovronsky, chief scientific officer at Eli Lilly.

"We have few other diseases where we have drugs that can offer this magnitude of benefit."

U.S. regulators authorized the combination therapy in February for use in COVID-19 patients 12 and over with a high risk of developing serious complications. European regulators greenlighted its use in March.

The United States agreed in February to purchase a minimum of 100,000 doses of the combination treatment.

Regulators authorized bamlanivimab alone for use against COVID-19 last year and the U.S. government agreed to purchase nearly 1.5 million doses.

Skovronsky said the combination therapy has the benefit of offering greater protection against new strains of COVID-19.

A variant of COVID-19 originally discovered in Britain has infected patients in most U.S. states and is expected to become the country's dominant strain. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi)

"We are quite confident this combo covers all of the variants in the U.S.," Skovronsky said, adding Lilly is studying an additional treatment for new COVID strains first identified in South Africa and Brazil, which have not become widespread in the United States.

Skovronsky said that Lilly is prepared to manufacture 1 million doses of the combination therapy in the coming months and is in active talks to supply governments around the world with the treatment.

(Reporting by Carl O'Donnell and Michael Erman in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)