Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company starts Phase 3 coronavirus trial with drug used to treat arthritis

The first patient has been enrolled in Eli Lilly’s Phase 3 clinical trial to test whether an arthritis drug, baricitinib, marketed as Olumiant, can treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

The pharmaceutical company made the announcement on Monday, saying it expected to enroll 400 patients in the trial, with data to come in the next few months.

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"Lilly is committed to fighting this global pandemic, and this includes testing whether existing medicines including baricitinib could help treat the complications of COVID-19 in patients," said Patrik Jonsson, Lilly senior vice president and president of Lilly Bio-Medicines, according to the press release. "This randomized controlled study is an important step in our understanding of baricitinib as a potential COVID-19 treatment."

Eli Lilly will run a Phase 3 clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of arthritis drug, baricitinib, in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. (iStock)

Eli Lilly will run a Phase 3 clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of arthritis drug, baricitinib, in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. (iStock)

The study will be conducted in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. It will include hospitalized COVID-19 patients showing at least one elevated marker of inflammation but don’t need mechanical ventilation at study entry.

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Baricitinib is approved in 70 countries to treat adults with moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis, the company wrote.

Lilly hypothesizes the drug can reduce the aggressive immune response, or cytokine storm, sometimes associated with COVID-19 infections. Baricitinib may also reduce the ability of infected cells to make more virus.

Patients involved in the study will receive drug or a placebo for up to 14 days or until discharge from the hospital.

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On a separate note, one doctor voiced promise earlier in the pandemic for arthritis drug, Tocilizumab, in the treatment of COVID-19. California pulmonary disease specialist, Dr. Imran Sharief,  recalled a patient in their 30s, exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms such as shortness of breath and fever when conditions started suddenly deteriorating. The patient was depending on maximum support from a ventilator upon treatment with tocilizumab.

“We were already cautious and we were worried because this patient was extremely young, so we started the medication right away,” Sharief told Fox News.

He reported seeing a response within 72 hours and, after five days, he transitioned the patient off the ventilator and into a regular ward.

Sharief still recommends other doctors start the medication quickly for deteriorating COVID-19 patients with a high oxygen requirement.