The federal government has agreed to purchase 100,000 doses of a newly authorized Covid-19 treatment from Eli Lilly, increasing the supply of such drugs for patients who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill but not yet hospitalized.
Under the agreement, announced Friday, the government will pay $ 210 million and Eli Lilly will ship the doses by the end of March. The government has the option to buy 1.1 million more doses of the treatment through November, but how many of those doses are ultimately ordered will depend in part on the course of the pandemic in the United States.
The treatment is a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies that combine Eli Lilly’s drug known as bamlanivimab, which was licensed last November and is in use for high-risk Covid-19 patients, with a second drug known as etesevimab. The combination received emergency clearance earlier this month from the Food and Drug Administration. Both drugs consist of artificial copies of the antibodies that are made naturally when a person’s immune system fights an infection.
The US government previously agreed to purchase nearly 1.5 million doses of bamlanivimab alone. Eli Lilly has already delivered more than 1 million doses, with the rest due in late March. More than 660,000 doses of bamlanivimab have been shipped to states and other jurisdictions.
Eli Lilly’s new combination therapy could offer an advantage over bamlanivimab only if worrisome variants of the coronavirus, particularly B.1.351, the first identified in South Africa, take off in the United States. While bamlanivimab alone was found to be impotent against variant B.1.351 in a laboratory study, preliminary data suggest that combination therapy may better combat the variants. This is because so-called escape mutations in the variants that can allow them to avoid one antibody may not work against the second.
Another monoclonal antibody cocktail, made by Regeneron, is also licensed in the United States. Nearly 100,000 doses of that therapy have been shipped.
Antibody treatments received a publicity boost last fall when they were given to Donald J. Trump when he was infected in the final months of his presidency, and to other high-profile Republicans, but they were surprisingly underused in many places in his early months of lifetime. availability. Overwhelmed hospitals did not prioritize treatments, which are cumbersome and must be delivered via intravenous infusions. Many patients and doctors did not know how to ask about them or how to find them.
In December, the first federal government data collected from hospitals suggested that they had only delivered about 20 percent of their supply to patients. But that image is changing. Eli Lilly has seen bamlanivimab use rise only to about 40 percent nationwide, with much higher absorption in some places, said Janelle Sabo, who leads Eli Lilly’s work on Covid-19 antibodies, in an interview earlier this week.