AN ARTHRITIS drug slashes the risk of Covid death by a fifth in the sickest patients, real-world trials reveal.
Anti-inflammatory pill baricitinib is now the fourth therapy shown to cut mortality in seriously ill coronavirus victims.
Experts said its life-saving effects are in addition to the benefits of other proven pandemic treatments, such as dexamethasone.
Oxford University researchers say that taken in combination, they can slash the risk of death from the virus by “well over a half”.
More than 8,000 Brits in hospital with Covid were either given the arthritis drug or a dummy pill.
Scientists found patients treated with baricitinib for ten days were 20 per cent less likely to die.
Joint chief investigator of the RECOVERY trial Sir Martin Landray praised the findings of the study.
He said: “These results not only show that treatment with baricitinib improves the chances of survival for patients with severe Covid-19, but that this benefit is additional to that from other treatments that dampen down the over-active immune response.
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“This opens up the possibility of using combinations of anti-inflammatory drugs to further drive down the risk of death for some of the sickest patients.”
He added: “We're certainly talking collectively that these treatments are reducing the risk of death for these patients by well over a half.”
The Oxford team have previously discovered three other life-saving Covid treatments – the steroid dexamethasone, the arthritis treatment tocilizumab, and a monoclonal antibody therapy called Ronapreve.
Dexamethasone is a corticosteriod drug, typically used to treat rheumatic problems, several skin diseases and some respiratory infections like asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease.
Tocilizumab – which is marketed as Actemra – is normally taken by those crippled with the painful condition to help reduce chronic inflammation.
Ronapreve works by injecting virus-fighting antibodies into the blood, where they latch on to the coronavirus and stop it getting into cells.
What is baricitinib?
Baricitinib, also known as Olumiant, is usually used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
It works by blocking the action of something called a Janus kinase enzyme.
These enzymes are involved in the inflammation that causes symptoms seen in patients with rheumatoid artritis.
People who take the treatment usually notice improvements in 12 weeks and will have respite from swelling.
If your doctor thinks you are suitable for the treatment then you will have to have a blood test first.
It's usually taken once a day, but if you are over 75 then the doctor might reduce your dose.
Some people who have previously been prescribed the drug say they have experienced side effects such as nausea.
Their findings have changed the way medics tackle the pandemic worldwide and has potentially saved millions of lives.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “As we learn to live with Covid, having access to a growing number of safe and effective treatments for the virus, like our game-changing dexamethasone, will be absolutely vital.
“This is promising news from the government-funded RECOVERY trial and shows, once again, how the UK is leading the world in identifying life-saving treatments for NHS patients.
“A big thank you to all of the researchers, doctors and volunteers involved in this work. Our medical and scientific experts will now consider the results before any decisions are made on next steps.”
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