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Eli Lilly’s Antibody Trial Is Paused Over Potential Safety Concern

A government-sponsored clinical trial that is testing an antibody treatment for Covid-19 developed by the drugmaker Eli Lilly has been paused because of a “potential safety concern,” according to emails that government officials sent on Tuesday to researchers at testing sites. The company confirmed the pause.

The news comes just a day after Johnson & Johnson announced the pause of its coronavirus vaccine trial because of a sick volunteer, and a month after AstraZeneca’s vaccine trial was halted over concerns about two participants who had fallen ill after getting the company’s vaccine.

The Eli Lilly trial was designed to test the benefits of the antibody therapy on hundreds of people hospitalized with Covid-19, compared with a placebo. All of the study participants also received another experimental drug, remdesivir, which has become commonly used to treat coronavirus patients. It is unclear exactly what safety issues prompted the pause.

In large clinical trials, pauses are not unusual, and declines in health in volunteers are not necessarily the result of the experimental drug or vaccine. Such halts are meant to allow an independent board of scientific experts to review the data and determine whether the event may have been related to the treatment or occurred by chance.

“This is why clinical trials are essential,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington. “The safety of the product has to be empirically proven.”

Enrollment for the Eli Lilly trial, which was sponsored by several branches of the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs, among other organizations, had been continuing. But on Tuesday, multiple officials sent emails to researchers telling them to stop adding volunteers to the study out of an “abundance of caution.”

In a statement, an N.I.H. spokeswoman said the trial, which had enrolled 326 Covid-19 patients, was paused when the independent safety board found that after five days of treatment, the group of patients who had received the antibodies showed a different “clinical status” than the group who had received a saline placebo — a difference that crossed a predetermined threshold for safety.

The N.I.H. statement did not specify the nature of the participants’ conditions. But the so-called stopping rules for the trial lay out the conditions for “futility” — the idea that a treatment has a very low chance of working, based on the data so far. A trial could also be halted if there is evidence that patients in one group are faring much worse than those in the other.

Given the ambiguity in the statements released on Tuesday, all scenarios remain possible, said Dr. Eric Topol, a clinical trials expert at the Scripps Research Institute. “It’s so amorphous,” Dr. Topol said.

The safety board will review the data again on Oct. 26, and advise the N.I.H. on whether to resume the trial, the statement said. In the meantime, researchers will continue to collect data from people already enrolled in the study.

Several experts praised the trial’s sponsors for halting the trial to address

U.S. pauses Eli Lilly’s trial of a coronavirus antibody treatment over safety concerns

  • Eli Lilly’s phase-three trial of its ACTIV-3 monoclonal antibody treatment for coronavirus has been paused due to potential safety concerns.
  • The ACTIV-3 trial is designed to test a monoclonal antibody developed by Eli Lilly in combination with remdesivir, an anti-viral with emergency use authorization for the virus.
  • It’s one of several ongoing trials, as part of the National Institute of Health’s “Activ” program, designed to accelerate the development of vaccine treatments in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry.



a group of people standing around a plane: In this May 2020 photo provided by Eli Lilly, researchers prepare mammalian cells to produce possible COVID-19 antibodies for testing in a laboratory in Indianapolis.


© Provided by CNBC
In this May 2020 photo provided by Eli Lilly, researchers prepare mammalian cells to produce possible COVID-19 antibodies for testing in a laboratory in Indianapolis.

Eli Lilly’s late-stage trial of its leading monoclonal antibody treatment for the coronavirus has been paused by U.S. health regulators over potential safety concerns, the company confirmed to CNBC on Tuesday.

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“Safety is of the utmost importance to Lilly. We are aware that, out of an abundance of caution, the ACTIV-3 independent data safety monitoring board (DSMB) has recommended a pause in enrollment,” a spokeswoman Molly McCully told CNBC. “Lilly is supportive of the decision by the independent DSMB to cautiously ensure the safety of the patients participating in this study.”

The company’s shares fell by about 3% in afternoon trading after the news started to leak out over Twitter.

The news comes less than 24 hours after Johnson & Johnson confirmed that its late-stage coronavirus vaccine trial was paused after a participant reported an “adverse event” the day before.

Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of Janssen research and development at J&J, told investors on a conference call Tuesday that the company still has “very little information” on the reason for the holdup, including if the patient received the vaccine or the placebo. Preliminary information has been sent to the data safety monitoring board for review, he added.

Medical experts note that pauses in large clinical trials are not uncommon. They added it’s possible the bad reaction could be result of an unrelated illness, and not the drug itself. The review from the data and safety monitoring board will help determine that.

The ACTIV-3 trial is designed to test a monoclonal antibody developed by Eli Lilly in combination with Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir, an anti-viral with emergency use authorization for the virus. It’s one of several ongoing trials that are part of the National Institute of Health’s “Activ” program, which is designed to accelerate the development of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. It is also backed by Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to manufacturer and distribute vaccines to fight Covid-19.

Eli Lilly’s drug is part of a class of treatments known as monoclonal antibodies, which are made to act as immune cells that scientists hope can fight the virus. The treatment was developed using a blood sample from one of the first U.S. patients who recovered from Covid-19. AstraZeneca and Regeneron, among other companies, are also working on so-called antibody treatments.

Monoclonal antibody treatments hit the headlines this month after news broke