Older adults’ survival of COVID-19 may be improved with arthritis drug

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As scientists continue to research possible treatments for COVID-19, they have looked to repurposing drugs that have already been approved. One of those drugs is baricitinib.

Used to treat adult rheumatoid arthritis, artificial intelligence software identified it in February because of its two potential mechanisms of action, Medical News Today reported.

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In one use, it could decrease inflammation and in the other, it could make it harder for the coronavirus to access a person’s cells.

The study saw scientists analyze 83 patients from the University of Pisa in Italy and Spain’s Albacete Hospital from mid-March to mid-April 2020, when the areas were epicenters of the worldwide pandemic.

On average, participants were 81 years old and had moderate to severe COVID-19. They were given baricitinib to treat the disease and compared with a control group of patients from Spain and Italy who did not take the arthritis drug.

Scientists discovered that 34.9% of the control group required mechanical ventilation or died while 16.9% of the patients treated with baricitinib needed intervention or died.

Reflecting on the AI-identified mechanisms baricitinib employs, researchers found the drug appears to work by reducing the reactions that occur with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This condition is one of the leading causes of death for people with COVID-19.

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According to Yale Medicine, ARDS is a serious lung condition that causes fluid to build up in the lungs. Injury to the lungs causes ARDS in all cases, whether by an outside injury or illness, as is the case with COVID-19. The lungs have a decreased ability to move oxygen into the blood leading to a direct affect on the body’s tissues and organs.

However, it appears baricitinib’s mechanisms cause a notable increase in survivability from the disease, Medical News Today reported.

“This study confirms what AI predicted, and what we were hearing from patient case reports,” said the study’s co-lead author Volker Lauschke, associate professor in Personalized Medicine and Drug Development at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. “For instance, one case involved an 87-year-old severely unwell patient from Foggia, Italy, who showed rapid improvement after being given the drug, whereas her husband and son, who did not receive baricitinib, died.”

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