Eli Lilly CEO: Speed and industry cooperation are aiding coronavirus treatment development

  • The pharmaceutical industry has responded with speed and cooperation to help bring coronavirus treatments to market, according to Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks. 
  • "We developed this antibody and got to proof of concept in six months. Usually, that's more than six years," Ricks said on "Mad Money."
  • Ricks also referenced Eli Lilly's manufacturing partnership with Amgen, saying it brings "more volume to the fight" against the pandemic. 

Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks told CNBC on Monday the pharmaceutical industry's pursuit of treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus pandemic has been defined by two qualities: speed and cooperation. 

Appearing on "Mad Money," Ricks referred specifically to the early data released last week for drug maker's potential coronavirus treatment using neutralizing antibodies. 

"Speed is a hallmark to the industry's response to Covid-19, and I don't think most everyday listeners understand. We developed this antibody and got to proof of concept in six months," Ricks said in an interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer. "Usually, that's more than six years." 

The global health crisis also brought together industry rivals in hopes of accelerating the development — and the production — of drugs that may help limit the impact of Covid-19, Ricks said. More than 31.1 million people worldwide have been infected and at least 962,343 have died since the novel coronavirus emerged late last year in China, according to data compiled to Johns Hopkins University. 

"One of the reasons we published this data last week was so our competitors who also are developing neutralizing antibodies can learn from that study and adapt their own efforts so we all get more of these things sooner," said Ricks, who has been Eli Lilly's CEO and chairman since 2017.

A spirit of cooperation also explains why Eli Lilly teamed up with Amgen in a deal announced Thursday, according to Ricks, who described manufacturing as a "huge problem." He added, "One drawback of neutralizing antibodies is while they may be pretty safe and they have good effects, they're very hard to make." 

However, Ricks said the partnership with Amgen will allow Eli Lilly — should its antibodies prove effective in trials and receive approval from regulators — to "bring more volume to the fight, so that more people around the world can benefit from the therapy like the one we have preliminary data on." 

In August, Eli Lilly began a study looking at whether one of its antibody drugs can prevent coronavirus spread in nursing homes, using an innovative network of mobile labs to facilitate the research. The antibody being studied was developed alongside AbCellera Biologics, a privately held Canadian biotech firm.

Shares of Eli Lilly closed Monday's session at $151.18, falling almost 2%. The stock is up almost 15% year to date.  

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