Arthritis Drug 'Cuts Elderly COVID-19 Deaths by Two-Thirds'

Arthritis Drug 'Cuts Elderly COVID-19 Deaths by Two-Thirds'

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – An arthritis drug has been found to cut deaths in patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 by a remarkable two-thirds – giving medics a powerful new weapon in their armory against the disease.

The daily pill, first earmarked as a potential COVID game-changer by a British firm, reduces deaths by 71 per cent in those with moderate or severe illness, researchers say, the Daily Mail reported.

Importantly, it works in the elderly, raising hopes that it will save the most vulnerable.

Called baricitinib, and marketed under the brand name Olumiant, it is a relatively new drug for rheumatoid arthritis that has been available for only three years.

But in February it was identified as a strong candidate to help treat what was then the new threat of COVID-19.

The drug was picked out by London-based BenevolentAI, which examined thousands of existing medicines for signs they might combat COVID.

Its artificial intelligence program predicted baricitinib would ‘reduce the ability of the virus to infect lung cells’.

Now the idea has been validated with pan-European researchers, led by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, reporting baricitinib slashes death rates in those admitted to hospital with the disease by two-thirds.

The development came as:

  • Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline told The Mail on Sunday it has already made ‘millions of doses’ of a vaccine and hopes it will be available alongside another vaccine developed by Pfizer early next year;
  • A further 26,860 COVID cases were recorded yesterday – a week-on-week rise of 7.6 per cent – along with 462 deaths within 28 days of a positive test;
  • Professor Susan Michie, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, urged the public to redouble their efforts so they would ‘be in a position’ to spend Christmas with loved ones;
  • Figures from the Office for National Statistics found England had seen a four per cent rise in daily infections in the first week of November, suggesting its spread was slowing;
  • The bosses of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic called for passengers to be allowed to have tests before leaving the UK rather than being quarantined for two weeks after returning.

Last night NHS cancer specialist Professor Justin Stebbing, of Imperial College London, predicted that baricitinib would help save thousands of lives. He said: ‘The history of treatments for COVID has not left many drugs standing. What has been left standing is two British-discovered drugs.’

The other is the steroid dexamethasone, found to cut the risk of death in severely ill COVID patients by 33 per cent.

The results, in the journal Science Advances, come from patients hospitalised with COVID-19 pneumonia at two hospitals, in Italy and Spain.

Professor Volker Lauschke, of the Karolinska, who led the study, said: ‘These results are especially encouraging seeing as the study included a large cohort of elderly patients, a group often excluded.’

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