The B.C. government is set to start clinical trials for a potential COVID-19 treatment that it had previously rejected and that has already been approved by Health Canada.
The drug, known as bamlanivimab, is made by U.S. pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly using technology from Vancouver-based biotech firm AbCellera. The company has donated $1 million to the province to support the clinical trials.
The drug was given emergency federal approval in November and is meant for COVID-19 patients who are at risk of developing severe symptoms.
The B.C. government had declined to approve use of the drug, but will reconsider following the results of the local trials.
“We welcome more evidence to approve care and look forward to more data on this and other therapies to combat COVID-19,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
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The discovered-in-B.C. therapy provides the body with antibodies that block the virus that causes COVID-19.
Data from clinical trials of more than 4,000 patients show that bamlanivimab reduces hospitalizations by 70 per cent in high-risk patients recently diagnosed with mild to moderate COVID-19.
The company’s trials have shown the drug prevents COVID-19 in nursing homes by reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 by up to 80 per cent in people exposed to the virus. bamlanivimab is currently authorized in 8 countries, including the US, Canada, Germany and Israel.
“The clinical studies has shows it acts as an effective shield against the progression of serious disease and based on more recent data an effective shield against death from COVID-19,” AbCellera CEO Carl Hansen said.
The drug has been used by more 125,000 patients in the U.S.
Health officials have been looking at multiple treatments that have come out around the world including dexamethasone, remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine and bamlanivimab. The province has been using remdesivir as a potential COVID-19 treatment.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there are still some questions around the effectiveness of bamlanivimab.
“Those clinical trials have shown that there’s still more understanding needed of who exactly this drug works best in,” Henry said.
“There is still no consensus among those experts, the physicians who are actually treating patients, about the benefits of bamlanivimab because the clinical trials were not cut-and-dry.”