The arthritis drug baricitinib could improve COVID-19 survival among elderly patients. This is the finding of a new international study led by scientists at Imperial College London and the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.
In the early-stage study, published in the journal Science Advances, 83 patients with a median age of 81 years and all suffering from moderate to severe COVID-19 infection were given baricitinib.
In the study, the patients, who were in multiple hospitals across Italy and Spain, had a 71 per cent reduced risk of dying compared with patients who had not taken the drug. The study also found that 17 per cent of patients who were given the drug died or needed to go on a ventilator, compared with 35 per cent in the control group.
The research demonstrated that interferon-alpha-2 significantly increases angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 expression and SARS-CoV-2 infectivity in parenchymal cells by more than five-fold. RNA-Seq revealed gene response signatures associated with platelet activation, fully inhibited by baricitinib.
Using viral load quantifications and super-resolution microscopy, baricitinib was found to exert activity rapidly through the inhibition of host proteins. The authors say this reveals the mechanistic actions of a Janus kinase-1/2 inhibitor targeting viral entry, replication and the cytokine storm, and is associated with beneficial outcomes including in severely ill elderly patients.
Professor Justin Stebbing, co-lead author, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial said: “This is one of the first COVID-19 treatments to go from computer to clinic and laboratory. It was first identified by an AI algorithm in February, which scanned thousands of potential drugs that could work against this virus."
“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 under way,” he said.