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If this coronavirus antibody treatment works, it could be available in the fall

Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company announced yesterday that it is beginning clinical trials of a potential antibody treatment for COVID-19 on humans. If the trials — which are in collaboration with Canadian biotech company AbCellera — are successful, the treatment could be available to the public as early as fall, CNN reported.

It’s hard to stomach the roller coaster of relying on medical breakthroughs in this tough moment, I know. But while we haven’t exactly nailed down antibody testing, yet, which we were all banking on, but this new treatment feels promising nonetheless. Here’s what you need to know about the rolling out of COVID-19 antibody treatment.

First of all, this treatment is not a vaccine, it’s a monoclonal antibody therapy — and the difference is important. A vaccine works by helping the body learn to develop antibodies to treat an invading infection, and monoclonal antibody therapy is a drug given by injection that introduces antibodies developed in a lab into a patient’s body to help them fight the infection. The treatment, called LY-CoV555, is a drug that was developed using antibodies taken from patients who recovered from the novel coronavirus.

We are all counting on a big medical breakthrough, and as important as it is to nurture hope, it’s equally important to understand the scope and limitations of this treatment. LY-CoV555 may have preventative potential for people who are unable to tolerate a vaccine (when we have one), and it may also help some people become better able to fight off the novel coronavirus, but it cannot create blanket immunity from the virus, CNN reported.

For now, Eli Lilly is conducting trials on patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 to see if the drug helps them recover safely. If those first trials are successful, the Phase 2 trials will assess whether LY-CoV555 can be safely given to COVID-19 patients who are recovering outside of a hospital, CNN reported.

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This is an important step in the fight against COVID-19 because it is the first potentially effective treatment specifically designed for novel coronavirus. Until now, doctors and scientists have been using drugs and treatments originally intended to treat other conditions, CNN reported. It could make a big difference in recovery time for a lot of individuals, and it could mean that fewer people get sick.

To be clear, the drug is undergoing clinical trials, and it isn’t certain whether or not it will be effective. Still, experts are hopeful. "It's not clear if such a therapy will work against Covid-19, but when this treatment was used on cells in the lab, it blocked the ability of the virus to infect the cells,” Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly's senior vice president and chief scientific officer, told CNN. We don’t know if antibody treatment is a real weapon against COVID-19, but companies are sprinting to find out. Regeneron and other U.S. corporations are also working on potential antibody treatments, reported CNN.

And despite the well deserved evil reputation of pharmaceutical and biotech companies, Eli Lilly appears to have the best interests of humanity in mind. “If it does work, we don't want to waste a single day,” Skovronsky said. “We want to have as much medicine as possible available to help many people quickly." In an ideal world, "helping many people" would mean giving it away for free to our most vulnerable patients.