VANCOUVER -- Health Canada has approved a new treatment for COVID-19 that was developed in partnership with a Vancouver-based biotech company.

The drug is called bamlanivimab – it’s an antibody that would be used on patients 12 years and older with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms who are at risk of progressing to severe illness or hospitalization.

“Timing is critical,” said Dr. Doron Sagman, vice president of medical for Eli Lilly Canada, which developed the drug in collaboration with Vancouver’s AbCellera, a biotech firm that started in 2012 out of a lab at UBC.

“This is intended to be used at the earlier stage of the illness, before the viral load rises to a point where it’s starting to do some damage,” Sagman explained.

Bamlanivimab was discovered by AbCellera after it successfully identified approximately 500 antibodies from a blood sample taken from one of North America’s first patients who recovered from COVID-19. 

“Our technology allows us to search deeply into natural immune responses to find antibodies,” said AbCellera CEO Carl Hansen in an interview with CTV News Vancouver in April 2020.

In March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced AbCellera would be one of several recipients of a $192-million funding package.

Lilly Canada says Health Canada approved the use of bamlanivimab on Friday, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization for the drug on Nov. 9.

In a news release, the company said the antibody is “designed to block viral attachment and entry into human cells, thus neutralizing the virus.”

In a Phase 2 study of the drug, the company says patients recently diagnosed with mild to moderate COVID-19 “showed reduced viral load and rates of symptoms and hospitalization.”

Preliminary results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Lilly Canada said it anticipates manufacturing up to a million doses of bamlanivimab by the end of the year, for use around the world “through early next year.” 

“The timelines are unprecedented,” Sagman said, “and I think the Canadian connection here is something we take great pride in.”