An anti-inflammatory drug normally used for rheumatoid arthritis could turn out to be a lifesaver for people hospitalized with Covid-19, a large clinical trial indicates.
UK researchers announced in March that the immune suppressant baricitinib reduced the risk of dying among hospitalized Covid-19 patients by 13%.
The remedy seemed especially effective when combined with other drugs, such as the readily available steroid dexamethasone, that also act on the immune system and have proven helpful in the fight against the novel coronavirus, researchers said.
“Adding baricitinib on top of whatever else the doctors are currently prescribing … is beneficial,” University of Oxford clinical scientist Martin Landray, one of the lead researchers, told Science.
If the results are borne out, baricitinib could be added to an arsenal of treatments that already include immune-tamping anti-inflammatory drugs, antivirals that inhibit coronavirus’s replication in the body, and antibody therapies, as BBC News noted.
The study was published in a pre-print at the University of Oxford’s website and is not yet peer-reviewed. It is part of an ongoing initiative led by the university called the Recovery Trial, which has been testing treatments since March 2020.
The research team studied outcomes for 4,008 patients who had been hospitalized with Covid-19 between February and December 2021 and treated with the best remedies at the time.
Researchers compared those results to 4,148 patients who received baricitinib on top of the usual care for up to 10 days. Of the first group, 546 patients, or 14%, died within 28 days, compared to 513, or 12%, of the group being treated with baricitinib. Given before intubation, baricitinib seemed to reduce the chance of needing a ventilator at all, the researchers said.
The anti-inflammatory appears to reduce the overactive immune response that helps Covid-19 destroy the lungs, researchers said.
“Today’s results not only show that treatment with baricitinib improves the chances of survival for patients with severe Covid-19 but that this benefit is additional to that from other treatments that dampen down the overactive immune response, such as dexamethasone and tocilizumab,” Landray said in a statement. “This opens up the possibility of using combinations of anti-inflammatory drugs to further drive down the risk of death for some of the sickest patients.”
As Covid-19 continues its rampage, health care providers welcomed the new possibilities.
“The pandemic is far from over, and we will likely have to contend with additional case surges in the future,” Emory University virologist Boghuma Titanji told Science. “It is heartening to have more mortality-reducing therapeutic options.”