A drug used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis known as baricitinib could potentially be repurposed for use in the treatment of COVID-19 patients, as found by a recent study undertaken by an international research team including scientists from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
The team’s findings published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine give an example of how artificial intelligence (AI)-algorithms might help in identifying existing drugs as potential therapies for new illnesses.
Baricitinib is a once-daily oral drug given to adult patients who have moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. The drug inhibits janus kinase, which is a type of enzyme thought of as an ‘on’ or ‘off’ switch in several cellular functions. It works by obstructing the inflammatory processes of the immune system and is now being seen as a potential therapeutic candidate for COVID-19.
The researchers used AI-algorithms who identify the existing drugs that could block both infectivity and inflammation.
Baricitinib was found to be a promising repurposing candidate for COVID-19 based on its previously demonstrated capability to block both the viral spread and cytokine activity. The researchers were able to show, in test tubes and 3D human miniature livers, that the drug was able to inhibit the signaling of cytokines, immune system-proteins that overreact and drive inflammation in severe cases of COVID-19.
It also helped lower the viral load of the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, and the level of the signal molecule interleukin-6 (IL-6), which can predict the mortality from acute respiratory distress syndrome linked to COVID-19.
Apart from laboratory tests, a small pilot study involving three men and one woman having bilateral COVID-19 pneumonia was performed in Milan, Italy. Around ten to twelve days after treatment with baricitinib, all four participants showed improved signs and symptoms like cough, fever, reduction in plasma IL-6 levels and viral load.