A type of arthritis drug called baricitinib may help reduce the risk of death for elderly patients with Covid-19 according to a new international study, led by scientists at Imperial College London and the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.
The study has been published in the journal Science Advances.
In an early-stage trial, researchers gave a drug called baricitinib to 83 patients, with a median age of 81 who were all suffering from moderate to severe Covid-19 infection.
“This medication is usually used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and was initially identified by the Imperial team using artificial intelligence as a drug that could have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects,” according to an official release.
According to an analysis, these patients, who were in multiple hospitals across Italy and Spain, had a 71 per cent reduced risk of dying compared to patients who had not taken the drug. Compared to 35 per cent of the patients who were not given the drug, 17 per cent of patients who were given the drug died or were put on a ventilator. “The study suggests this drug can aid recovery of patients with moderate to severe Covid-19 and may provide a new weapon in our arsenal against the virus. Large-scale clinical trials of this drug, to further investigate its potential, are now underway,” Professor Justin Stebbing, co-lead author of the study from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial said.
In early research, scientists from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and those from the Imperial team grew organoids in the lab. Organoids are miniature human organs. These were then used to investigate how exactly the drug may help to treat Covid-19.
According to the research, the drug worked in two ways. It reduced organ damage caused by inflammation. It also blocked the virus from entering human cells. “We have seen the top line results of a randomized study called the Adaptive Covid Treatment Trial-2 announced recently, showing benefits of baricitinib plus remdesevir, compared to remdesvir alone in over one thousand patients,” said Stebbing.
“Other very large trials occurring now include COV-BARRIER, and this will help create a fuller picture of the benefits and side effects of the oral medication (a small number of the patients in our study needed to stop the treatment due to problems with liver function). Further trials comparing baricitinib to other drugs in Covid-19 patients would also be helpful in improving outcomes,” Stebbing added.