A single infusion of an experimental drug has markedly reduced blood levels of the coronavirus in newly infected patients and lowered the chances that they will need hospitalization, the drug’s maker announced on Wednesday.
The drug is a monoclonal antibody, a man-made copy of an antibody produced by a patient who recovered from Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Many scientists hope that monoclonal antibodies will prove to be powerful treatments for Covid-19, but they are difficult to manufacture and progress has been slow.
The announcement, by Eli Lilly, was not accompanied by detailed data; independent scientists have not yet reviewed the results, nor have they been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The findings are the interim results of a trial sponsored by Eli Lilly and the National Institutes of Health. Officials at the N.I.H. declined to comment until they have more thoroughly reviewed the data.
According to Eli Lilly, 452 newly diagnosed patients received the monoclonal antibody or a placebo infusion. Some 1.7 percent of those who got the drug were hospitalized, compared with 6 percent of those who received a placebo — a 72 percent reduction in risk.
Blood levels of the coronavirus plummeted among participants who received the drug, and their symptoms were fewer, compared with those who got the placebo.
Every treatment so far shown to help coronavirus patients — the antiviral drug remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone — is intended only for seriously ill hospitalized patients. Those with mild to moderate disease have had to wait and hope for the best.
Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he was impressed.
“It’s exciting,” said Dr. Cohen, who was not involved in the study. The clinical trial appears to be rigorous, and the results are “really compelling.”
Other companies, too, are developing monoclonal antibody drugs to combat the coronavirus, he noted: “This is the opening of a door.”
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