Adding an arthritis drug called baricitinib to Covid-19 treatment regimens that include the antiviral drug remdesivir might shave a day or more off recovery times, especially for those who are seriously sick, according to a study published on Friday.
The findings of a government-sponsored clinical trial were made public more than three weeks after the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the dual treatment.
Earlier this month, some experts said they were uncomfortable deploying drugs without the opportunity to vet the underlying data supporting their performance. Last month, the World Health Organization also recommended against remdesivir as a treatment for Covid-19 patients because evidence supporting its use was lacking.
Limited results earlier were announced via news releases, showing that hospitalized patients treated with baricitinib and remdesivir recovered one day faster than those who had received remdesivir alone.
Some questioned adopting the combination treatment given baricitinib’s hefty price tag — which may be about $1,500 per patient — and also cited side effects like blood clots. Several doctors also wondered whether adding baricitinib would be worthwhile because steroids like dexamethasone were cheap and widely available. Both baricitinib and dexamethasone are thought to act by tamping down excessive inflammation, which drives many severe cases of Covid-19.
The new paper, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, adds some granularity to the findings, showing that certain groups of patients benefited from the addition of baricitinib far more than others.
The trial enrolled more than 1,000 hospital patients with Covid-19, all of whom received remdesivir. People who were sick enough to require a high dose of supplemental oxygen or a noninvasive form of ventilation recovered eight days faster when baricitinib was included in their drug regimen.
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