An arthritis drug may cut deaths in hospitalized COVID-19 patients by about two thirds among those suffering from moderate or severe cases of the virus, according to a new study.
Called baricitinib, and marketed under the brand name Olumiant, the medication has been touted by its British company as a possible game changer in the fight against COVID-19, the Daily Mail reported.
The rheumatoid arthritis drug, which has been available for only three years, was identified in February as a strong candidate to help treat what was then the emerging threat of the novel coronavirus, according to the outlet.
London-based BenevolentAI examined thousands of existing drugs for signs they might be effective against the deadly bug. The company’s artificial intelligence program predicted that the arthritis drug would “reduce the ability of the virus to infect lung cells,” the Daily Mail reported.
And now, a study by European researchers and led by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that baricitinib dramatically cut death rates in COVID-19 sufferers admitted to a hospital by about 70 percent.
The results, published in the journal Science Advances, came from 83 patients who were treated with the drug while hospitalized with coronavirus pneumonia at two hospitals in Italy and Spain.
“We are pleased to report a 71 percent reduction in mortality for the group receiving baricitinib in addition to standard care,” said Karolinska Institute Professor Volker Lauschke, who led the study.
“These results are especially encouraging seeing as the study included a large cohort of elderly patients, a group often excluded.”
Professor Justin Stebbing, a cancer specialist at Imperial College London, predicted that the medication could help save thousands of lives.
“The history of treatments for COVID has not left many drugs standing. What has been left standing is two British-discovered drugs,” he said, the Daily Mail reported.
The other is the steroid dexamethasone, which has been found to cut the risk of death among severely ill coronavirus patients by 33 percent.