By Peter Loftus
Eli Lilly & Co. and Incyte Corp. said Monday they will seek U.S. emergency-use authorization for their rheumatoid arthritis drug Olumiant as a treatment for Covid-19, after a study showed that it helped hospitalized patients recover sooner.
Lilly and Incyte said adding Olumiant to remdesivir, a drug from Gilead Sciences Inc., shaved about one day off the median recovery time for Covid-19 patients, compared with patients who received remdesivir but not Olumiant.
The study of more than 1,000 patients began in May and was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Lilly didn't disclose the total time to recovery for patients in the study. Previously, a separate study showed that hospitalized patients taking remdesivir had a median time to recovery of about 11 days. Lilly expects full results to be published in a medical journal soon.
"This is an impressive improvement," Lilly Chief Executive David Ricks said in an interview.
He said Lilly and Incyte plan to discuss the study outcome imminently with the Food and Drug Administration.
Olumiant is also known by its generic name baricitinib,
If the FDA agrees to authorize the emergency use of Olumiant, it would join a small but growing list of authorized Covid-19 treatments in the U.S., following FDA authorization of Gilead's remdesivir and convalescent plasma to treat certain Covid-19 patients.
Studies also have shown that certain steroids can help Covid-19 patients.
The FDA approved Olumiant, which is taken as a tablet, in 2018 to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Lilly decided to test it against the new coronavirus because it has anti-inflammatory properties that could be useful in controlling a type of immune-system response that accounts for the severity of Covid-19 disease in some patients.
However, other anti-inflammatory drugs from Roche Holding AG, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Sanofi SA have failed to help Covid-19 patients in separate studies this year.
Citi analyst Andrew Baum said in a research note that Olumiant likely suppressed certain inflammatory activity in Covid-19 patients, and may have helped reduce viral entry to patients' cells.
Olumiant had $285 million in global sales for the six months ended June 30, compared with $185 million in the year-earlier period.
The drug costs about $105 per day for government customers and $150 a day for commercial customers, Mr. Ricks said.
Lilly has increased production of the drug with a goal of having enough supply for both Covid-19 patients and rheumatoid-arthritis patients, Mr. Ricks said.