Eli Lilly opens labs, plans drive-thrus to help boost Indiana's COVID-19 testing capacity

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Eli Lilly is currently piloting drive-thru testing programs and expects to announce more details in the coming days. (Eli Lilly)

Eli Lilly is opening the doors of its Indianapolis headquarters to help the state health department process samples for the novel coronavirus outbreak.  

"Lilly is bringing the full force of our scientific and medical expertise to attack the coronavirus pandemic around the world," said Chairman and CEO David Ricks. 

"For more than 140 years Lilly has played a leading role in solving problems in our Indiana home. Today we are marshalling our people and our assets to confront and defeat the novel coronavirus in our state,” Ricks said in a statement. "This is one contribution we can make to help slow the spread of coronavirus in our community, and this testing will be entirely free.”

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The Indiana State Department of Health confirmed its first patient with COVID-19 March 6, following recent travel, and reported its first two deaths from the disease earlier this week. 

As of March 17, the state lists 39 positive cases and 193 people tested by the health department. Gov. Eric Holcomb has also activated the Indiana National Guard and ordered bars and restaurants to halt service to dine-in customers.

Lilly will use its research laboratories to analyze samples taken from healthcare facilities, nursing homes and emergency rooms. In addition, the company is currently piloting drive-thru testing programs and said it expects to announce more details in the coming days.

"Lilly's scientists have been working day and night for several weeks to implement and validate this testing approach, and access or produce the chemical reagents that are in short supply across the country,” said Chief Scientific Officer Daniel Skovronsky, president of Lilly Research Laboratories. “Lilly's lab meets the required certifications to conduct testing, and we're optimistic in our ability to help accelerate testing.”

RELATED: FDA opens the gates to commercial coronavirus testing without agency review

Nationwide, the U.S. has reported over 9,400 cases as of early March 19, with 150 deaths from the virus. Access to widespread testing has lagged behind; according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testing at public health laboratories passed over 4,000 specimens per day for the past week.

Meanwhile, the FDA opened up testing to certain CLIA-certified, “high complexity” laboratories, allowing them to proceed with their own validated diagnostics prior to FDA review—and later expanded that policy to commercial developers, provided they both submit applications for emergency test authorizations within 15 days of use. The agency also delegated oversight authority to state health departments, allowing them to review and approve COVID-19 tests directly.

"We know the magnitude of the impact that advances by Lilly can have on how we diagnose and treat Hoosiers and people worldwide, and we're grateful for Lilly's commitment to help accelerate solutions," said Indiana’s state health commissioner, Kris Box.

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