Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks told CNBC on Friday that his company aims to start testing a treatment for the globally spreading coronavirus in the coming months.
The pharmaceutical giant on Thursday announced that it has teamed up with the privately held AbCellera Biologics to co-develop a medicine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that has sickened more than 137,000 people across the world and at least 1,700 in the U.S. as of Friday.
"The speed at which [pharma research] is unfolding is unprecedented in our industry. Literally, AbCellera started this work 11 days ago," Ricks said in a phone interview with Jim Cramer on "Mad Money." "We hope to be in a clinical trial this summer."
To begin developing a cure, AbCellera screened and isolated antibodies of the first U.S. patients to recover from the illness, Ricks explained. Eli Lilly will assist in replicating the antibodies that may respond to the virus to produce and manufacture a drug, he said.
"We're partnering to find the best one, scale up production and bring it to the marketplace," he said.
A potential COVID-19 treatment may require more than one medicine for the most ill patients, Ricks added. He expects that the drug, if and when it's available, will be administered in intensive care units first, but it could be available outside the hospital and can act as a preventative treatment for those most at risk.
The creation of a vaccine would take more time because it would have to be tested on healthy people, the chief executive told Cramer.
"We're starting this because we believe it could work," he said, "and by starting with the very material that helped someone survive, we think it's a good starting place to find an antibody or a cocktail of antibodies that can be given to patients when they do become sick."
Eli Lilly and AbCellera are not alone in the race to create a treatment to slow the spread of the disease.
Biogen also announced a partnership, with drug developer Vir Biotechnology Inc. for the development of infection-fighting proteins known as monoclonal antibodies.
Drugmaker Gilead is also testing its experimental therapy remdesivir in treating COVID-19 and is expected to announce results from its ongoing clinical trials over the next month.
AbCellera and Lilly will equally share initial development costs toward a product, the companies said.
Eli Lilly will be responsible for all further development, manufacturing and distribution of the product.
Goldman Sachs on Wednesday placed Eli Lilly on its "Conviction Buy" list saying that the drugmaker's growth profile ranks among the strongest in the U.S. large-cap biopharma sector.
— Reuters contributed to this report.