Arthritis drug shown to reduce risk of COVID death in large UK trial

Coronavirus posters in London
A woman walks past a sign amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, Jan. 24, 2022.
REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File

(Reuters) – Eli Lilly and Incyte’s arthritis drug baricitinib helped reduce the risk of death in hospitalised COVID-19 patients by 13% regardless of which other coronavirus treatment they were given, according to a large British study.

Over 8,000 patients were administered baricitinib in addition to usual care, at random, or usual care alone, as part of the so-called RECOVERY trial, scientists from the University of Oxford said on Thursday.

Results showed 546 patients in the usual care group died within 28 days but only 513 patients in the baricitinib group died where they were also given a corticosteroid like dexamethasone, tocilizumab or remdesivir.

“This result confirms and extends earlier findings, providing greater certainty that baricitinib is beneficial and new data to guide the treatment of COVID-19 patients with a combination of drugs to dampen the immune response,” said Peter Horby, Oxford professor and joint chief investigator.

The findings are consistent with the U.S. drugmakers’ own research from a smaller trial last August and comes after a World Health Organization panel had earlier this year recommended baricitinib for patients with severe COVID-19 in combination with corticosteroids.

Baricitinib belongs to a class of drugs called Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitors which work by blocking actions of enzymes that play a role in the immune system processes and lead to inflammation, often seen in severe COVID-19 as lung damage.

U.S. authorities have approved the emergency use of baricitinib, sold under the brand name Olumiant, with or without taking Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir, while European regulators are reviewing the treatment for approval.

In the RECOVERY trial, baricitinib also increased the chances of patients being discharged alive within 28 days and reduced the risk of their condition worsening, scientists said.

Scientists behind the RECOVERY trial had shown dexamethasone saved the lives of COVID-19 patients, in what was called a “major breakthrough” in the pandemic, and also found tocilizumab worked against coronavirus.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

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