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Arthritis drug reduced risk of COVID deaths by 13%, U.K. study finds

March 3, 2022, 6:04 PM UTC

Eli Lilly & Co. and Incyte Corp.’s rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib reduced the risk of death from COVID-19 in a large U.K. study, bolstering evidence that the class of inflammation-fighting medicines can help infected patients.

Adding baricitinib to standard treatments lowered the risk of death among hospitalized COVID patients by 13%, according to results from the U.K. trial, called Recovery, in 8,156 people with the disease. Most of the patients also received steroids, and about one-quarter also got a different type of arthritis drug, Roche Holding AG’s Actemra. 

The findings bolster the case for treating hospitalized patients with drugs like baricitinib. Known as JAK inhibitors, the therapies tamp down on potentially lethal immune overreactions by blocking a cellular message to make infection-fighting factors. When combined with those of other studies, the results indicate that such drugs probably cut COVID patients’ risk of death by about a fifth, the researchers said. 

“What we have now is, if you like, a suite of drugs which tackle the immune system at different levels, in slightly different ways,” Martin Landray, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford who helped lead the study, said in a briefing. 

The World Health Organization strongly recommended baricitinib in January for patients with severe or critical COVID. The companies sell the drug for rheumatoid arthritis treatment under the brand name Olumiant

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