A potential new coronavirus treatment could reach hospitals faster than expected thanks to the joint efforts of a pharmaceutical giant and a small, privately held biotech. Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY), in partnership with AbCellera, has already treated the first patients in a clinical trial for a new COVID-19 treatment candidate, an antibody called LY-CoV555.

Acting fast 

The antibody under study was first identified by AbCellera and the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in a blood sample taken from a patient who had recovered from COVID-19. The big pharma's research and development team has raced LY-CoV555 into the clinical-stage of development just a few months later. 

Physician in a hospital room with a clipboard.

Image source: Getty Images.

Lilly and AbCellera are already a step ahead of Regeneron (NASDAQ:REGN), a biotechnology pioneer that's developing its own COVID-19 fighting antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2. The FDA is currently reviewing an effective Ebola virus treatment Regeneron developed with the same technology.

Next steps

Lilly's LN-CoV555 isn't just the first biologic drug aimed at COVID-19 to reach clinical-stage testing -- it's also the first medicine discovered by a team that was specifically looking for treatment for this novel coronavirus.

Before the end of June, Lilly will review the results from the first patients treated with LY-CoV555. If there are signs of success without serious side effects, Lilly will begin a broader series of efficacy trials. The company also expects to study the experimental antibody as a preventative measure for vulnerable patients.

While it will take a while to measure results from COVID-19 patients treated with LY-CoV555, Eli Lilly is beginning large-scale manufacturing of the experimental therapy now.