INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Despite having several vaccines, people are still getting severely sick from the coronavirus.
That means treatments are still needed — for now. Scientists at Eli Lilly and Company have been investigating one particular drug they say is a powerful defense against virus complications. And now they have the research to back it up.
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The drug is called baricitinib. It was originally designed to fight inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Lilly scientists have since re-purposed the drug and are using it to combat the inflammation-related complications of COVID-19.
Initially, they researched a combination treatment of baricitinib with the antiviral drug remdesivir in over 1,000 hospitalized patients. Findings showed the combination significantly reduced the number of days to hospital discharge compared to the control group. Now, they’ve found baricitinib can successfully reduce coronavirus-related inflammation without remedesivir.
“Most complications of patients in the hospital are from inflammation,” Dr. Ana Cardoso, a scientist at Lilly, said. “Inflammation is driving this virus. It’s what the body does in response [to infection]. That leads to complications and unfortunately deaths. So the motivation behind using baricitinib is [to target] hyperinflammation and reduce disease.”
Baricitinib reduced the risk of death by 39% in patients requiring supplemental oxygen and ventilators. The drug is now under emergency use authorization as a stand-alone treatment for adults and pediatric patients over two years old.
“Baricitinib in combination with remdesivir has already provided many people with a treatment option that could help prevent progression to ventilation or death and increase recovery speed for certain hospitalized patients with COVID-19 under it’s currently authorized use,” Ilya Yuffa, senior vice president and president of Lilly Bio-Medicines, said in a news release. “[The] FDA’s action provides physicians additional treatment regimen options for baricitinib to continue to meet the urgent medical need posed by this pandemic.”
Cardoso says Lilly has been in communication with the FDA. The two are currently in discussions about a path to full approval.