The first drug, baricitinib, is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor- a class of drugs used to treat autoimmune conditions, blood and bone marrow cancers, and rheumatoid arthritis. According to the WHO Guideline Development Group, it is strongly recommended for patients with severe or critical disease in combination with corticosteroids.
An employee works on the Production Line of a COVID-19 Vaccine in India
The World Health Organization
(WHO) has recommended two new drugs to treat patients with COVID-19, one for
patients with critical disease and one for non-severe cases.
The first drug, baricitinib, is a
Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor- a class of drugs used to treat autoimmune
conditions, blood and bone marrow cancers, and rheumatoid arthritis. According
to the WHO Guideline Development Group, it is strongly recommended for patients
with severe or critical disease in combination with corticosteroids.
The group of international
experts based their recommendation on moderate certainty evidence that it
improves survival and reduces the need for ventilation. There was no observed
increase in adverse effects. The experts note that it has a
similar effect as other arthritis drugs called interleukin-6 (IL-6) inhibitors.
Because of that, when both drugs are available, they suggest choosing the best
option based on cost, availability, and clinician experience. It is not
recommended to use both drugs at the same time. The experts also advise against
the use of two other JAK inhibitors (ruxolitinib and tofacitinib) for patients
with severe or critical cases of COVID-19 infection.
According to them, trials
undergone using these drugs failed to show any benefits arising using either drug
and suggested a possible increase in serious side effects with tofacitinib.
In the same update, WHO makes a
conditional recommendation for the use of a monoclonal antibody known as
sotrovimab in patients with non-severe cases. The experts say that the drug
should only be administered to patients at the highest risk of hospitalization.
In those at lower risk, it only showed trivial benefits.
A similar recommendation has been
made previously, for another monoclonal antibody drug, casirivimab-imdevimab,
and the experts say there is insufficient data to recommend one over the other.
For both, the effectiveness against new variants, like Omicron, is still
The group will update their
guidelines for monoclonal antibodies when more data becomes available. These
recommendations are based on new evidence from seven trials involving over
4,000 patients with non-severe, severe, and critical infections.
Developed by WHO with the
methodological support of MAGIC Evidence Ecosystem Foundation, the guidelines
provide trustworthy guidance and help doctors make better decisions with their
According to the agency, the
guidelines are useful in fast-moving research areas, because they allow
researchers to update evidence summaries as new information becomes available.
The latest guidance also updates
recommendations for the use of interleukin-6 receptor blockers and systemic
corticosteroids for patients with severe or critical COVID-19; conditional
recommendations for the use of casirivimab-imdevimab (another monoclonal
antibody treatment) in selected patients; and against the use of convalescent
plasma, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, regardless of disease severity.