Lilly starts second COVID-19 antibody test with partner Junshi Biosciences, eyes combo trials

Eli Lilly
(Eli Lilly)

In just over a week Eli Lilly has gone from having nothing in the clinic to not one but now two antibody drugs targeting SARS-CoV-2 as it also eyes combining both, and more besides, for a more potent effect.

At the start of the month, Lilly began dosing COVID-19 patients in a phase 1 trial of its AbCellera-partnered antibody known as LY-CoV555; now, it’s kickstarting another phase 1 program with its second COVID asset, which is partnered with Chinese biotech Junshi Biosciences.

The experimental med, known as JS016, sees Junshi leading development in Greater China while Lilly has exclusive rights in the rest of the world. Dosing started in China today with a complementary phase 1 study in the U.S. to start “in the coming days.”

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Both phase 1 studies aim to evaluate the safety, tolerability, pharmacokinetics and immunogenicity of JS016 in healthy volunteers who have not had COVID-19.

This is Lilly's second neutralizing antibody to start clinical trials, following LY-CoV555 that is currently being tested in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and was the first antibody drug to start trials against the disease.

Lilly says it is already plotting a cocktail approach with these two antibodies. Because the meds bind to different epitopes on the spike protein, bringing them together could “expand the diversity of options for achieving efficacy and avoiding resistance,” the Big Pharma said in a statement.

It also plans to add these drugs to “additional antibodies currently in preclinical development,” in the hope that, as with other disease areas, such as cancer, combo therapies will boost efficacy.

“There is much we still don't know about COVID-19,” said Daniel Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., Lilly's chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories.

“The best path to learn more about the potential for neutralizing antibodies, either as monotherapy or in combination, is through carefully controlled randomized trials. We look forward to the results of such trials in the coming months.”

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