US pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly on Wednesday said its experimental drug for Covid-19 appeared to reduce the need for hospital treatment during a trial on patients with mild and moderate symptoms. The drug maker tested three different doses of the monoclonal antibody treatment, LY-CoV555, against a placebo in a trial involving people who had recently been diagnosed with the disease. Antibodies are proteins the body makes in response to invasion by a foreign substance such as a virus. The experimental drug is designed to work against the spike protein of Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, by blocking the virus from entering human cells, neutralising it and potentially preventing and treating the disease. It was manufactured in a laboratory from a blood sample taken from one of the first US patients who recovered from Covid-19. For the trial, which began in June, 452 people were recruited who had been recently diagnosed with Covid-19 but were not seriously ill or in hospital. Five of the 302 patients who were given the drug were later admitted to hospital, while nine of the 150 placebo patients ended up in hospital. That suggested a 72 per cent reduction in the risk of being admitted to hospital for patients given the antibody drug compared to those given the placebo, Eli Lilly said. “These interim data suggest that LY-CoV555 has a direct antiviral effect and may reduce Covid-related hospitalisations,” Daniel Skovronsky, Eli Lilly’s chief scientific officer and president of Lilly Research Laboratories, said in a statement. “The results reinforce our conviction that neutralising antibodies can help in the fight against Covid-19.” Global coronavirus tally nears 30 million as rich nations snap up vaccine stocks The drug maker said most of the patients, including those given the placebo, had shown almost complete viral clearance by day 11 of the trial. Only those on the middle dose of the antibody drug, 2,800mg, achieved the goal of significantly reducing the viral load in patients’ blood after 11 days. The lower dose group on 700mg and the higher dose on 7,000mg did not meet this target. No drug-related serious adverse events were reported during the trial, and similar adverse events were seen across all dose groups that were comparable to the placebo, the company said. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is also expected to release early data this month on its antibody drug, REGN-COV2, which is in the late stage of a human trial. Two other drugs that appear to work to some extent – antiviral drug remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone – are only being used to treat seriously ill patients. ‘Artificial coronavirus’ study linked to Steve Bannon and Chinese fugitive Guo Wengui The Eli Lilly trial is ongoing and the drug maker intends to publish the interim results in a peer-reviewed journal. It is also recruiting patients to test whether a combination of LY-CoV555 and a second antibody drug, LY-CoV016, can reduce the number of patients with persistently high viral load as well as reduce the rate of hospital admission. Meanwhile, LY-CoV555 is also being tested in nursing homes in the US – which have been hit hard by the pandemic – to see if it can help prevent coronavirus infections among both residents and staff.