Big Pharma firm Eli Lilly is testing whether its experimental antibody drug can stop a single infection from turning into a full-blown outbreak in US nursing homes.
The company is running trials of its highly-anticipated monoclonal antibody treatment in a highly unusual study population: elderly Americans in long-term care facilities.
Monoclonal antibodies are modeled after the immune cells that the body naturally makes in response to infections. The hope is that Eli Lilly’s drug could stop coronavirus from invading healthy human cells.
Eli Lilly started dosing its first 25 participants at an Illinois care home after a first case was identified there in July, the New York Times reported.
Such drugs are being developed to treat coronavirus infection, but also to stop it from occurring.
And although elderly people may be harder hit by any potential side effects – making them unusual trial participants – if the drug can combat infection and stop outbreaks, it would save the lives of countless of at-risk people in nursing homes.
Eli Lilly has begun dosing people at nursing homes with its antibody drug in the hopes that it will prevent coronavirus infection (pictured: staff members attend to a Massachusetts nursnig home resident suspected of having COVID-19; file)
Some 40 percent of the Americans who have died of coronavirus in the US have been residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities.
Weaker immune systems and higher rate of chronic health conditions put elderly people at higher risk of infections of all sorts, and make them more likely to succumb to these diseases.
The issue was brought home in the US when the virus spread out of control at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, beginning in February.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) team descended upon the facility and assisted staff in mitigating what fallout they could – but even highly trained experts were largely helpless.
Before its outbreak was contained, 167 people were infected in connection with the nursing home. The center had just 120 residents.
Forty-six people died, including at least 37 residents.
It was a sobering reminder just how vulnerable long-term care facilities, where many at-risk people live in relatively close quarters and staff come and go, really are.
Since then, testing has become more widely available, helping to detect outbreaks earlier, as opposed to what happened at the Life Care Center, where coronavirus spread for weeks unnoticed.
And some nursing homes have introduced universal regular screening, with great success.
But once a coronavirus case is detected, there is only so much staff can do to contain it until a vaccine and better treatments are available.
Enter: Eli Lilly’s trial.
Scientists at Eli Lilly (pictured) developed a drug based on antibodies found in one of the first US patients to recover from COVID-19. Now, it will test the antibody drug in thousands of nursing home residents and staff to see if it can prevent infection (file)
Launched at the beginning of August in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, the study is trying out a new kind of infection control that could work as something of a stop-gap between now and whenever a vaccine becomes available.
Researchers lie in waiting until a nursing home reports a positive coronavirus test after at least two weeks without any cases.
Once the call comes in, Eli Lilly springs to action, rolling into town with everything needed to turn a nursing home into a trial clinic, including a mobile lab in a high-tech RV.
On site, researchers face a new challenge: recruiting elderly patients after fully informing them of the risks and procedures involved in trial participation.
Researchers have contacted about 500 nursing homes and about 125 have signed on to trials.
Trials have begun at at least two facilities so far.
Heartland Health Center in Illinois was the first to participate in Lilly’s trial starting in July when the nursing home facility identified a case of coronavirus, the New York Times Reported.
At the facility, researchers asked 80 people – including elderly residents and younger people with injuries or medical conditions – to join the trial. Twenty-five said yes.
Each participant gets an infusion of the drug, called LY-CoV555, which designed to neutralize the coronavirus’s infectious ‘spike’ protein can keep exposed people from developing the infection.
They’re then closely monitored for any spikes in vital signs.
Hopefully, the drug, which is based on antibodies taken from one of the first US patients to recover from COVID-19, will work like natural antibodies, binding to the spike and blunting its attempts to enter cells.
Eli Lilly hopes to have preliminary results by November.