Eli Lilly has started late-stage studies to see if his antibody drug can prevent Covid-19 in nursing homes – and a fleet of mobile research laboratories is critical to making the study possible.
"We wanted to see if we could help people in nursing homes because the disease was so devastating," said Dr. Dan Skovronsky, scientific director of Eli Lilly, in CNBC's "The Exchange" on Monday. "It's just heartbreaking to think about isolation, fear, illness, and death."
Nursing homes account for about 8% of Covid-19 cases in the United States, but about 41% of deaths, according to the New York Times. This makes it an important place for examining a drug to see if it can prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.
But for a variety of factors, including potential mobility restrictions for residents, "nursing homes are not set up for clinical research," Skovronsky said in an interview with CNBC's Meg Tirrell.
In addition, Skovronsky said Eli Lilly wanted to test the drug "within days" of finding an infection in nursing homes.
Bringing the laboratory to the nursing home proved to be the solution to these research challenges.
The wheeled laboratories are RVs that have been gutted and "turned into research facilities," said Skovronsky. According to Eli Lilly's website, Coachmen called his dealers and had the appropriate type of RV delivered to Indianapolis, where the drugmaker is headquartered.
From there, Skovronsky said that some of Eli Lilly's mobile research laboratories, with staff at locations in the United States, were positioned to anticipate possible infection in a nursing home. "When the outbreak begins, we'll be close by. We'll go to the site, investigate, work with the facility's staff, and involve both residents and workers in the process," he said.
Eli Lilly shares closed 1.7% on Monday at $ 152.84 each after the start of the bell announcement.
The company anticipates that up to 2,400 people will test its drug LY-CoV555 in the coming months. The drug – made from monoclonal antibodies – is also being tested as a possible treatment for patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19.
Eli Lilly developed the drug together with AbCellera Biologics, a privately held Canadian biotech company. By using monoclonal antibodies, the drug tries to prevent the coronavirus protein in spiked form from being able to bind to human cells, which in turn would prevent infection by this virus.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, run by the White House health advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is led, is Eli Lilly's partner in the nursing home study, as well as some long-term care networks in the United States.
These studies focus on determining whether LY-CoV555 can prevent the spread of Covid-19, Skovronsky said. However, he noted that treating the virus is also important, which is why Eli Lilly hopes to test the drug on people who have just been diagnosed with Covid-19.
"But one of the things to consider here is that production capacity is limited," Skovronsky said, explaining that Eli Lilly believes that more than 100,000 cans could be produced by the end of 2020 and "many more" next year.
"It's still not enough for everyone who needs this drug to get it," he added. "We have to think about where we can benefit the patient the most. I think that nursing home patients are certainly one of these population groups."