Eli Lilly and Amgen announced a global antibody manufacturing collaboration last week to significantly increase the supply capacity available for Lilly’s potential COVID-19 therapies. Lilly is currently studying several potential neutralizing antibodies for the prevention and/or treatment of COVID-19 as either monotherapy or in combination. Through this collaboration, the two companies will have the ability to quickly scale up production and serve many more patients around the world should one or more of Lilly’s antibody therapies prove successful in clinical testing and receive regulatory approval.
This is an important step forward for scaling the production capacity for LY-CoV-555. The question we ask, of course, is where is HHS leadership? HHS has deployed billions of dollars in Operation Warp Speed for vaccines – rightly so. There is no doubt that the ideal best weapon is a vaccine, and based on recent experience with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)1 and Phase 2 and Phase 3 trial data thus far, good reason to believe that they will be effective.
However, history tells us that this epidemic is far from over, and long experience with vaccines for the Flu and Coronavirus cousins tells us not to bet the farm on vaccines. They are likely to help, but there are a number of factors that make vaccines problematic and not likely to be a “silver bullet” in the war on Covid 19. And by definition, vaccines take far longer to bring to market safely than antibody-based drugs.
With the winter & flu season approaching, time is of the essence. Antibody-based drugs are important tool – and still mostly overlooked tool – that needs to be brought to bear as soon as possible. Further, most experts now predict that based on the global reach and characteristics of Covid-19, this virus is here to stay.
The coronavirus is simply too widespread and too transmissible. The most likely scenario, experts say, is that the pandemic ends at some point — because enough people have been either infected or vaccinated — but the virus continues to circulate in lower levels around the globe. Cases will wax and wane over time. Outbreaks will pop up here and there. Even when a much-anticipated vaccine arrives, it is likely to only suppress but never completely eradicate the virus. (For context, consider that vaccines exist for more than a dozen human viruses but only one, smallpox, has ever been eradicated from the planet, and that took 15 years of immense global coordination.) We will probably be living with this virus for the rest of our lives.
Given this reality, a robust tool set of antibody-based drugs that can be rapidly updated and adapting to this shifting enemy will be a crucial permanent part of an effective strategy for protecting health and preventing disruption from Covid-19.
So, where is Operation Warp Speed to accelerate and scale their availability and production? That is the question this site is dedicated to answer!