Lilly taps AbCellera to get coronavirus drug into clinic in 4 months

Eli Lilly has teamed up with AbCellera to develop a treatment for the novel coronavirus. The partners aim to have an antibody in the clinic within four months, giving them a shot at contributing to efforts to counter the virus.

AbCellera, which lists Gilead Sciences and Novartis among its partners, entered the race to develop a therapy against the SARS-CoV-2 virus by getting hold of a blood sample from one of the first U.S. patients to recover from the pathogen. Having secured the sample, AbCellera screened 5 million immune cells in search of ones that made the functional antibodies that helped the patient neutralize SARS-CoV-2.

The screening identified 500 or so fully human antibody sequences. With the project now advancing to an assessment of the antibodies’ effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2, AbCellera has enlisted Lilly to help keep the program moving forward quickly.

AbCellera and Lilly will split initial development costs. Beyond that, Lilly will take over and try to get the candidate through development, manufacturing and talks with regulators as quickly as possible. The early steps in that process could proceed faster than is typical under normal circumstances.  

“While typically a new therapeutic antibody program might take years to get in the clinic, our goal with AbCellera is to be testing potential new therapies in patients within the next four months,” Lilly Chief Scientific Officer Daniel Skovronsky said in a statement.

The next steps toward that goal will benefit from government support. Notably, AbCellera is set to work with the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center to express the antibodies it picked for screening. 

If AbCellera and Lilly can hit their timeline, the antibody will be among the more advanced therapies developed specifically for SARS-CoV-2. In remdesivir, Gilead has one of the more promising, advanced treatments for the virus. However, that antiviral was originally developed to treat Ebola before being repurposed in light of preclinical data and the outcomes in the first U.S. patient with SARS-CoV-2.