This arthritis drug shows promise against COVID-19

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In a new study, researchers found that a drug against rheumatoid arthritis called baricitinib could potentially be repurposed to treat patients with COVID-19.

The findings represent an example of how artificial intelligence (AI)-algorithms could help identify existing drugs as potential therapies against as new illnesses.

The research was conducted by a team at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and elsewhere.

Baricitinib is a once-daily oral drug used for the treatment of adult patients with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.

It acts as an inhibitor of janus kinase, a type of enzyme that acts as an “on” or “off” switch in many cellular functions.

The drug works by interfering with the inflammatory processes of the immune system and has been viewed as a potential treatment candidate for COVID-19.

In this study, the researchers used AI to identify existing drugs capable of blocking both inflammation and infectivity.

Baricitinib was identified as a promising repurposing candidate for COVID-19, due to its previously demonstrated ability to inhibit both cytokine activity and viral spread.

In test tubes and 3-D-human miniature livers, the researchers showed that the drug inhibited signaling of cytokines, immune system-proteins known to overreact and drive inflammation in severe cases of COVID-19 infection.

It also helped reduce the viral load of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and the level of the signal molecule interleukin-6 (IL-6), a predictor of mortality from acute respiratory distress syndrome associated with COVID-19.

In addition to the lab tests, a small pilot study of three men and one woman with bilateral COVID-19 pneumonia was conducted in Milan, Italy.

After 10-12 days of treatment with baricitinib, all four patients showed improvements in signs and symptoms such as cough, fever, and reductions in viral load and plasma IL-6 levels.

These results suggest that baricitinib may lower inflammation and viral load in COVID-19.

Additional trials of baricitinib are currently underway in 85 hospitalized COVID-19 patients across three hospitals in Northern and Central Italy, with encouraging initial results in patient outcomes.

One author of the study is Ali Mirazimi, an adjunct professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Karolinska Institutet.

The study is published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.

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