AbCellera today announced that LY-CoV555, the lead antibody from the collaboration between AbCellera and Eli Lilly, has entered into human testing for the potential treatment of COVID-19.

LY-CoV555 is developed from a fully human monoclonal antibody identified from the first blood sample obtained from a North American patient who recovered from COVID-19.

Developed at record speed, LY-CoV555 appears to be the first new medicine developed specifically against COVID-19, taking less than three months to advance from screen to first-in-human clinical trials.

Vaccines work by teaching the body to make its own antibodies, which prevent infection. Researchers are also experimenting with giving patients blood from those who have recovered, called convalescent plasma, so that sick people can benefit from the antibodies in that blood. But this will never be a large-scale treatment.

The advantage of an antibody drug is that researchers could select a particularly effective antibody out of the thousands of different SARS-CoV-2 antibodies that might exist in even one patient, and then manufacture it at scale.

The current development efforts are all trying to compress a drug development process that takes years into months. AbCellera and Eli Lilly only started work on this antibody drug in late February.

Carl Hansen, Ph.D., CEO of AbCellera, said his company had been working for years with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, to figure out how to develop medicines quickly in a pandemic.

Last year, the company, working with the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had run a simulation of its capabilities to take on a pandemic flu. It had already been planning to attempt to demonstrate its capabilities against a coronavirus this year.

“Our response to COVID-19 is a time-compressed example of why AbCellera exists – to build and bring together the teams and technologies needed to solve the toughest problems in drug development,” said Hansen today. “Lilly has moved with incredible speed and agility, and we are proud to work alongside them as they advance the first potential antibody treatment against COVID-19 into human trials.”

Last month AbCellera raised a US $105 million Series B round and the Government of Canada injected $175 million into the Vancouver-based company to build a manufacturing facility for antibody drugs.