(Reuters) – U.S. drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co said on Monday it would delay starting new studies and pause enrollment in ongoing studies, as it looks to free up healthcare facilities and doctors to attend to the growing number of COVID-19 patients.

The decision makes Lilly the biggest drugmaker to delay clinical trials as a precautionary measure in the face of the pandemic that has killed over 14,600 people worldwide.

The move would “ease the burden on participating healthcare facilities and allow physicians to focus more of their efforts on combatting COVID-19,” Lilly Chief Medical Officer Tim Garnett said.

The company said its decision may delay the previously communicated timeline for ongoing late-stage studies of its experimental gastrointestinal disease treatment, mirikizumab.

Lilly did not indicate similar delays in other ongoing late-stage trials.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week urged switching to virtual patient visits instead of in-person monitoring for clinical studies as it anticipated the outbreak would disrupt clinical trials.

U.S.-based Iveric Bio Inc delayed enrolment in a trial of its eye disease drug last week, two days after Provention Bio paused a study of its diabetes drug, but allowed trial patients to complete their course.

Lily said it would continue trials where patients are already enrolled.

It added that it does not anticipate any change to its full-year forecast as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.



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