Lilly’s new combo treatment joins growing list of drugs reducing COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — They have been at the forefront in the fight against the coronavirus and now the development of a new combination treatment, Eli Lilly & Company could bring us one step close to winning the battle.

On Wednesday, the company announced results from their BLAZE-1 Phase 3 clinical trial involving high risk, symptomatic patients recently diagnosed with COVID-19. News 8 spoke with Janelle Sabo, COVID-19 therapeutics platform leader at Lilly, about the findings.

Gillis: We’re so excited to have you here. Thank you so much and congratulations. Tell us about the results of this trial and why the combination treatment?

Sabo: The combination treatment is two different neutralizing antibodies. These were isolated by prior survivors of COVID-19. They are co-administered to the high risk, recently diagnosed symptomatic patient and when administered these latest results showed that they decrease hospitalizations by 87 percent.

This is really important because high risk patients are known to go on to worse outcomes particularly emergency room visits, hospitalizations and even potentially death.

Gillis: And this is even more important now because–although we have vaccines coming out–we still need treatments because we don’t know how long this is going to be around.

Sabo: Vaccines aren’t 100 percent. But, of course, if you have access to a vaccine you should absolutely consider getting the vaccine administered and have a conversation with your primary care physician. But even if you have the vaccine there is still a chance of infection. And certainly those who are not eligible for or haven’t taken or choose not to take the vaccine will still be at risk for infection. In this high risk population treatments will still need to be available. So, today’s results reinforce the fact that these COVID-19 therapeutics using neutralizing antibodies will play a key role on an ongoing basis.

Gillis: Right. They are still very necessary. How long did it take for you guys to get to this place?

Sabo: We began development of bamlanivimab and etesevimab–the two neutralizing antibodies last year…they entered the clinic in June of last. We had our first results by October, our first EUA (emergency use authorization) in November and then the combination early this year.

Now with these reinforced results this is another treatment in the toolkit for patients to have positive results who are at high risk and we’re really excited to see the data again reinforced with such a substantial decrease in hospitalization and death.

Gillis: Right. I mean, like you said, 87 percent. That’s a huge number. And you guys have been at the forefront battling this pandemic. What would you want to tell us Hoosiers. And we’re so proud of you by the way…that you guys are in Indianapolis, are in Indiana…so what is your message not only as it relates to this new treatment but also the pandemic. Because hopefully we’ll be on the other side of this soon.

Sabo: I would say the pandemic is definitely improving. There is a lot to be excited about. But in the near term it’s still going to be important to mask up and socially distance. I do think it’s important when eligible for a vaccination that you consider whether or not a vaccination is right for you and talk with a treating physician that you are familiar with.

But should you become sick with COVID-19 and you are at high risk for potentially adverse outcomes such as hospitalization or death that you seek the advice and your healthcare professional about COVID-19 therapeutics including the neutralizing antibodies. These are important conversations to have before you become sick because once you become sick they do need to be administered within 10 days of onset.

Gillis: That’s great information. Thank you, Janelle. Can you share with us next steps? What’s happening moving forward?

Sabo: For our COVID-19 therapeutics platform we’re continuing to finish the long-term follow up from our Phase 3 studies and continuing to collect safety data. We’re also beginning to look at additional second generation neutralizing antibodies that will be able to cover a broad range of emerging variants. We think this is important given that we’re starting to see that the virus under pressure is mutating. Although not here in the Hoosier state in significant numbers it is definitely something we are monitoring and something that we’re beginning to address as well.

Gillis: So important because we know they are on U.S. soil. Last thirty seconds. What is your message to us?

Sabo: I think number one is it’s been really a privilege at Eli Lilly and Company to serve the community. To be involved with testing across the state and increasing access to testing, but also in the development of COVID-19 therapeutics. We’re really committed to making lives better and helping Hoosiers not only across the state but also across the globe and I think these results reinforce that commitment, but also the results of what is possible with COVID-19 therapeutics in these high risk patient populations.

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over six years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Facebook @DrMaryGillis and Instagram @reportergillis.

Below is the full interview.