Eli Lilly’s new combination therapy could offer an advantage over bamlanivimab alone if worrisome coronavirus variants — particularly B.1.351, the one first identified in South Africa — take off in the United States. While bamlanivimab alone was found in a lab study to be powerless against the B.1.351 variant, preliminary data suggest that the combination therapy may be better able to fight off variants. That’s because so-called escape mutations in the variants that may enable them to avoid one antibody may not work against the second.
Another monoclonal antibody cocktail, made by Regeneron, is also authorized in the United States. Nearly 100,000 doses of that therapy have been shipped out.
Antibody treatments got a publicity boost last fall when they were given to Donald J. Trump when he was infected in the last months of his presidency, and to other high-profile Republicans, but they were surprisingly underused in many places in their first months of availability. Overwhelmed hospitals did not prioritize the treatments, which are cumbersome and must be given via intravenous infusions. Many patients and doctors did not know to ask for them or how to find them.
In December, the federal government’s early data collected from hospitals suggested that they had given only about 20 percent of their supply to patients. But that picture is changing. Eli Lilly has seen usage of bamlanivimab alone rise to around 40 percent nationwide, with uptake much higher in some places, Janelle Sabo, who leads Eli Lilly’s work on Covid-19 antibodies, said in an interview earlier this week.