Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

This photo provided by Eli Lilly shows the drug bamlanivimab.

The Canadian Press

Canadians infected with the coronavirus will soon have access to an antibody treatment similar to one given to U.S. President Donald Trump, with Ottawa unveiling a US$32.5-million deal to buy thousands of doses of the drug.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced Tuesday that the federal government has agreed to buy as many as 26,000 doses of bamlanivimab, an Eli Lilly drug developed in partnership with the Vancouver company AbCellera Biologics.

The drug is the first treatment to receive an interim green light from Health Canada under a new approval mechanism designed to allow treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 into the country more swiftly.

Story continues below advertisement

Health Canada granted the medication interim authorization on Friday.

COVID-19 news: Updates and essential resources about the pandemic

Is my city going back into lockdown? A guide to COVID-19 restrictions across Canada

The approval and purchase of bamlanivimab comes at a moment when Canada is desperate for better treatments for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Infections, hospital admissions and deaths are surging in every province west of the Maritimes, prompting provincial governments to impose new restrictions, including lockdowns, to curb spread of the virus.

Bamlanivimab could help, but it’s no silver bullet, experts say.

“We all want to mitigate infections that happen in patients,” said Srinivas Murthy, a critical care and infectious diseases doctor at BC Children’s Hospital who leads the Canadian arm of a major World Health Organization trial on COVID-19 treatments. “But we don’t know if this is the drug to do that. If it is, how do you best roll it out in the Canadian health care system?”

Bamlanivimab is a lab-created monoclonal antibody designed to stop or slow down SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from replicating inside the body. It has to be given as soon as possible after a person is infected to work well. The rub is that most people made seriously ill by COVID-19 don’t experience severe symptoms until later in the course of their illness, when the immune system goes into overdrive to fight off the virus.

By then, it’s too late for Eli Lilly’s antibody to help. A U.S. government-sponsored trial of the drug in hospitalized COVID-19 patients was halted because it didn’t seem to improve the condition of that group of patients.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes a related antibody cocktail given to Mr. Trump after he was infected in October, recently stopped enrolling very sick hospitalized patients in its trial for the same reason. On Saturday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Regeneron’s product for emergency use in COVID-19 patients who are high-risk of serious illness but not yet admitted to hospital.

Story continues below advertisement

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who was infected around the same time as the outgoing president, received Eli Lilly’s antibody drug.

Timing wouldn’t be as much of an impediment if bamlanivimab were a pill. But it’s given as an hour-long, supervised intravenous infusion at a cost to the Canadian government of US$1,250 for the medication alone. In Canada, IV drugs are most commonly delivered in hospitals, although private clinics sponsored by drug companies and some home-care services offer them as well.

“We don’t really have the capacity in the health care system to go out [to people’s homes] and give IVs and give monitored drugs that have just been approved,” Dr. Murthy said.

Still, if the right, high-risk patients can be identified and offered treatment early enough after a positive test, there is hope that bamlanivimab and other monoclonal antibodies could reduce the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital.

The interim results of a Phase 2 trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that when given early to outpatients, bamlanivimab reduced viral load and led to fewer hospital admissions, although the number of seriously ill patients in both the placebo and drug arms of the trial turned out to be small.

“With this pandemic surge, there is a need for a therapeutic bridge to much-needed vaccines,” said Doron Sagman, vice-president of research and development and medical affairs for Eli Lilly Canada. Bamlanivimab could help to keep high-risk patients from becoming sick enough to require hospital care until vaccines for COVID-19 are widely available in Canada, he said.

Story continues below advertisement

Health Canada’s instructions for bamlanivimab define “high-risk” primarily as COVID-19 patients who are over the age of 65 or have obesity, chronic kidney disease, diabetes or diseases that suppress the immune system. They also say the drug should be administered as soon as possible after a positive test or no more than 10 days after symptoms begin.

Eli Lilly developed the drug in partnership with AbCellera, a Vancouver biotech company that used artificial intelligence to analyze the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients to pinpoint the best antibodies to copy and turn into drugs to fight the viral infection.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies