NEW YORK (AP) _ Eli Lilly & Co.'s stock was down a bit today after soaring 17 percent yesterday following the pharmaceutical company's report of positive findings from a study of its experimental drug for sepsis, a deadly blood infection. It was trading down $2.375 at $99.875 this morning.

Lilly chose to end its two-year-study of the drug Zovant in July _ or six months early _ because the results appear so promising. The company is likely to apply for U.S. approval for Zovant later this year; if approved, it would be the only drug specifically targeted to treat sepsis.

Shares of Lilly on Thursday rose $15.125 to $102.25 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

``This is the first success we have seen in an endeavor to deal with sepsis. No one was expecting it,'' said Viren Mehta, a pharmaceutical analyst with Mehta Partners in New York. ''

Doctors have been hamstrung to fight sepsis, which can often lead to multiple organ failure and has a 30 percent to 50 percent death rate.

Sepsis, which affects 700,000 Americans each year and kills 1,400 people a day worldwide, can be caused by pneumonia, surgery, trauma and other factors.

Indianapolis based-Eli Lilly stopped enrollment in the late stage clinical trial following a recommendation by an independent board that reviewed the double-blind study in which half the 1,520 participants received the drug and half took a placebo.

The patients received the drug for four days and were then evaluated after 28 days. The study was conducted at hospitals in 11 countries, including the United States.

Lilly did not release any specific study findings, only to say it had positive results.

If eventually approved, Lilly officials say Zovant can help save lives. ``This will have substantial impact on patients and their families,'' said Dr. Bill Macias, Lilly's medical director for predicted development team.

Analysts estimate that Zovant could have peak annual sales of about $500 million.

New drugs are particularly important to Lilly, which is facing the patent expiration of its signature depression pill Prozac in 2002.

Lilly officials said Zovant is given intravenously and works by preventing blood clots, breaking up existing blood clots and reducing the inflammation that occurs in blood vessels. Other attempts to develop a sepsis drug usually focused only on one of those problems.

Zovant is used as a supplement to antibiotics and other supportive therapies that help the lungs, kidneys and heart to function.


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