The company said its experimental antibody treatment, LY-CoV555 being developed with Canadian biotech AbCellera has moved into mid-stage testing and that it was planning final-stage human trials in the coming weeks.
Lilly expects efficacy data from the mid-stage trial in the fourth quarter of the year.
“As long as it looks safe, why not push forward? It’s all about risk versus reward, and the reward might be huge if something were to work,” said UBS analyst Navin Jacob.
The urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic had driven Lilly's decision to start the pivotal efficacy trials as early data on the antibody treatment was mostly focused on safety, said Chief Scientific Officer Daniel Skovronsky on a conference call.
Companies and governments are boosting "at-risk" spending - in part by ramping up manufacturing of unproven products - as global hopes ride on an effective vaccine or therapy to help curtail a pandemic that has claimed some 668,000 lives and hammered economies worldwide.
Eli Lilly is also developing another antibody treatment with Chinese drugmaker Shanghai Junshi Biosciences Co Ltd.
The drugs belong to a class of treatments known as monoclonal antibodies that are among the most widely used biotechnology medicines. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc and other drugmakers are testing similar treatments against COVID-19.
Lilly also reported second-quarter sales that fell short of Wall Street estimates, as it took a nearly $500 million hit with patients avoiding hospitals and doctors' offices earlier in the pandemic.
Revenue fell 2.4% to $5.50 billion, missing estimates of $5.76 billion, and Lilly's shares fell nearly 6%.
"We anticipate this disruption will continue until vaccines and new medicines can be used to manage the spread of the infection," said Lilly's Chief Executive David Ricks.
The company, however, beat second-quarter profit estimates by 33 cents, and raised both ends of its full-year profit forecast range by 50 cents, suggesting confidence in a better second half of the year.The company now expects 2020 adjusted earnings of $7.20 to $7.40 per share.