A drug company says that adding an anti-inflammatory medicine to a drug already widely used for hospitalized COVID-19 patients shortens their time to recovery by an additional day.
Eli Lilly announced the results Monday from a 1,000-person study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The result have not yet been published or reviewed by independent scientists, but the government confirmed that Lilly’s statement was accurate.
Lilly’s arthritis drug, baricitinib, counteracts the severe inflammation of the autoimmune disease, and may help coronavirus patients in the same way, while remdesivir combats viral replication inside their bodies.
Remdesivir has been shown to reduce hospital stays for COVID-19 patients by four days, and those who got baricitinib had to be hospitalized for one additional day less, on average, Lilly reported.
FILE – The Eli Lilly corporate headquarters is pictured April 26, 2017, in Indianapolis. A drug company says that adding an anti-inflammatory medicine to a drug already widely used for hospitalized COVID-19 patients shortens their time to recovery by an additional day. Eli Lilly announced the results Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, from a 1,000-person study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
Indianapolis-based Lilly already sells as Olumiant in pill form to treat rheumatoid arthritis, the less common form of arthritis that occurs when a mistaken or overreacting immune system attacks joints, causing inflammation.
An overactive immune system also can lead to serious problems in coronavirus patients.
All study participants received remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug previously shown to reduce the time to recovery.
Those who also were given baricitinib recovered one day sooner than those given remdesivir alone, Lilly said.
Lilly said it planned to discuss with regulators the possible emergency use of baricitinib for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
If that’s approved, Lilly will propose that the drug be sold through usual commercial means.
Based on current pricing, the government would pay $105 per patient per day, and for people with private insurance, hospitals would pay about $150 per day, Lilly said. What a patient ends up paying out of pocket depends on many factors.
It would be important to know how many study participants also received steroid drugs, which have been shown in other research to lower the risk of death for severely ill, hospitalized COVID-19 patients, said Dr Jesse Goodman, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief scientist now at Georgetown University who had no role in the study.
Figuring out how to best use the various drugs shown to help ‘is something we’re going to have to work at,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Gilead is also looking to expand the ways that remdesivir might be used.
Its CEO Daniel O’Day on Monday told CNBC’s Squawk Box that the company has launched trials to use the drug in IV form outside of hospitals.
Many major hospitals in the US are reserving the use of remdesivir for the sickest patients, a recent Reuters investigation found, and have cut their orders by a third.
At $3,120 per treatment course, remdesivir is expensive, and hospitals are reticent to buy or the drug on hand when it may go unused as hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to decline in many states.
O’Day said his company is ‘not done with remdesivir yet’ and is also trialling an inhaled form of the antiviral.
If the arthritis drug continues to show promise, combining it with remdesivir or other drugs, like steroids, could ultimately help doctors treat coronavirus patients less expensively, but more data needs to be published to determine this.