A drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis has been found to improve survival of hospitalized Covid-19 patients. The discovery comes from a study of over 1,500 Covid-19 patients in 12 countries and is being hailed as a significant breakthrough for treatment options for people who are severely ill with Covid-19.
Early on in the pandemic in February 2020, baricitinib was identified as a promising drug to treat Covid-19 by a company using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to identify potential treatments for diseases. The drug, normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, was thought to have possible antivirus properties, but also known to be a strong inhibitor of inflammation. The researchers hoped that these anti-inflammatory properties would reduce the multi-organ damage often sustained by severely ill Covid-19 patients.
“Hospitalized patients with the SARS-CoV-2 infection (which causes Covid-19), often develop an intense hyperinflammatory state that can lead to dysfunction of multiple organs, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock and death,” said E. Wesley Ely, MD, MPH, Grant Liddle Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, one of the leaders of the study. “Despite treatment advances with remdesivir, dexamethasone and tocilizumab, reducing mortality among hospitalized patients remains a crucial unmet need,” added Ely.
An initial study on just 15 moderately and severely ill Covid-19 patients showed that 11 of them did better than expected when treated with baricitinib, so the researchers designed a large study of over 1,500 patients to test the therapy further. Most of these patients were already on steroids, following the discovery of dexamethasone as a promising Covid-19 therapy and all of the participants were additionally either given baricitinib or a placebo treatment. The researchers found that baricitinib reduced deaths by 5%, saving 1 in 20 patients who would otherwise have died from Covid-19 within 60 days.
Crucially, the patients who benefitted the most from the drug were the most severely ill, including those on a bipap machine to help them breathe or high flow oxygen. In these more severely ill patients, the researchers found that 1 in 9 patients were saved who would have otherwise died.MORE FOR YOUIvermectin, A 40-Year Old Anti-Parasitic Now Embedded In A Covid-19 Culture WarWhat Are The Medical Exemptions For Not Getting A Covid-19 Vaccine?Fake Covid-19 Vaccine Card Said ‘Maderna’ Instead Of Moderna, Leads To Arrest In Hawaii
“It is increasingly evident that treatment with baricitinib may help prevent death in some of the most critically ill COVID-19 patients, and that this class of medications represents an important treatment advance for this vulnerable group of patients in the constantly evolving pandemic,” said Ely.
Although the drug definitively reduces the chance of death from Covid-19, the drug didn’t seem to slow down the progression of the disease.
“When Covid-19 hits your body and the train is leaving the station, we did not find that this medication stopped the progress of the disease process entirely. If you were already sick, you continued to get a little sicker. The train keeps going a little bit, but adding baricitinib keeps you from going over the cliff into death,” said Ely.
Baricitinib is owned by Eli Lilly, but the scientists did not receive any payment from the company for running the study.