Dave Ricks, chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly, told CNBC on Tuesday that he believes the company's treatment with coronavirus antibodies will continue to be beneficial for Covid-19 patients despite the recent end of a study of the drug in a hospital .
The government-run clinical trial, which has been discontinued, looked at whether the antibody treatment was helping people who are hospitalized with coronavirus. In a statement Monday, Eli Lilly said that data so far from the study indicated the drug was "unlikely" to help patients recover from the advanced stages of the disease.
"These are patients who had symptoms many, many days ago. They made progress in the hospital. Many had supplemental oxygen," Ricks said in Squawk Box. "It's disappointing, of course. We would have liked to have shown a benefit in the hospital. It doesn't seem like that benefit is there, so this chapter of this study is closing."
Other antibody treatment studies with Eli Lilly are ongoing, including another sponsored by the National Institutes of Health that involves recently diagnosed Covid-19 patients with mild to moderate disease. Lilly is also conducting a study to determine whether antibody treatment is preventively effective for residents and staff in nursing homes.
Earlier this month, Eli Lilly filed an application with regulatory agencies for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use for single antibody treatment, particularly for use in mild to moderate Covid-19 patients at higher risk of death. The drug company also hopes to file an emergency application for its two-antibody combination treatment in November.
The company has so far seen "strong results" from the antibody studies that have involved patients who were earlier in their Covid-19 diagnosis, Ricks said. "Detecting the disease early, where you can reduce the viral load with an antibody, seems to make a significant difference."
Eli Lilly is one of a handful of other companies developing coronavirus antibody drugs, which experts have viewed as a promising potential Covid-19 treatment. The goal of this class of drugs is to strengthen the immune system's defenses and prevent the virus from infecting human cells.
President Donald Trump received an antibody cocktail from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals after he was diagnosed with Covid-19 in early October. Regeneron has also filed with the FDA for emergency approval.
Ricks said Covid-19 has been shown to be a "two-phase disease," which may explain why antibody treatment does not appear to be of benefit to hospital patients.
"You have the initial stage, which is characterized by significant viral replication and the effects on your body that are causing symptoms," he said. "Then the second phase, in which people unfortunately develop their own immune storm, which shuts down their organs and ends up in the hospital."
According to Ricks, by the time a patient ends up in hospital, antibody treatment "may not be enough viral load to reduce". "Instead, we might want to use anti-inflammatory drugs like steroids or our own Olumiant, which has been shown [effective] in this situation," he said. Olumiant is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory disease.
Eli Lilly's shares fell nearly 5% early Tuesday as investors digested both the end of the hospital study and the company's quarterly results. Adjusted earnings per share of $ 1.54 missed Wall Street's expectations by 17 cents, while revenue of $ 5.74 billion also fell short of estimates.
According to Ricks, Eli Lilly saw a weakness in his diabetes drug Trulicity, which was due to unexpectedly high discounts and increased sales to Medicaid. He also noted that the company's $ 125 million spending to speed up coronavirus treatments also weighed on revenue. "That was never in our leadership," he said.