Coronavirus: Eli Lilly starts testing; Gilead drug shows positive signs

Topics Eli Lilly | Coronavirus | Lockdown

FILE PHOTO: Laboratory technicians, seen behind a blue-tinted window, work on testing patient samples for the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, at the Pathologists Lancet Kenya laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya | Photo: PTI
US Drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co said on Friday that it had started clinical testing of therapies for the illness caused by the coronavirus. The company said it had entered into an agreement with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study the baricitinib drug to examine its efficacy and safety as a potential treatment for hospitalized patients diagnosed with Covid-19.

Lilly had previously been testing Olumiant or baricitinib drug as a treatment for atopic dermatitis.

The study will start this month in the United States and will then expand to other sites in Europe and Asia, the company said in a statement, adding results from the study are expected within two months.

Lilly said it currently does not anticipate shortages for any of its medicines, including baricitinib. US deaths due to the coronavirus topped 18,100 on Friday, according to a Reuters tally. Earlier this week, the drugmaker lowered insulin costs, saying it has capped the out-of-pocket cost for it to $35 per month to help diabetes patients across the United States, many of whom are facing financial difficulties due to the coronavirus outbreak.

More than two-thirds of severely ill Covid-19 patients saw their condition improve after treatment with remdesivir, an experimental drug being developed by Gilead Sciences Inc., according to new data based on patient observation.

The analysis, published on Friday by the New England Journal of Medicine, does not detail what other treatments the 61 hospitalized patients were given and data on 8 of them was not included -- in one case because of a dosing error.

The paper's author called the findings "hopeful," but cautioned that it is difficult to interpret the results since they do not include comparison to a control group, as would be the case in a randomized clinical trial. In addition, the patient numbers were small, the details being disclosed are limited, and the follow-up time was relatively short.

There are currently no approved treatments or preventive vaccines for the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 100,000 people worldwide.

Gilead, last month, sharply limited its compassionate use program for remdesivir and is conducting its own clinical trials of the antiviral drug, with results expected in coming weeks. Researchers in China as well as the U.S. National Institutes of Health are also testing the drug in Covid-19 patients.

In February this year, a Chinese institute applied for a national patent on a potential coronavirus treatment developed by California-based pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences (GILD), according to media reports.

The new analysis includes patients in the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan who received a 10-day course of intravenous remdesivir.

Before the treatment, 30 patients were on mechanical ventilators, and four were on a machine that pumps blood from the patient's body through an artificial oxygenator. After a median follow-up of 18 days, 36 patients, or 68 per cent, had an improvement in oxygen-support class, including more than half of the 30 patients receiving mechanical ventilation who had their breathing tubes removed. A total of 25 patients, or 47 per cent, were discharged from the hospital. Seven patients, 13 per cent of the total, died.

Twelve patients, 23 per cent, had serious side effects including multiple-organ-dysfunction syndrome, septic shock and acute kidney injury.

"We look forward to the results of controlled clinical trials to potentially validate these findings," wrote Dr. Jonathan Grein, the paper's lead author and director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.

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