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Tuesday 08 March 2022

Southampton researchers help discover life-saving COVID-19 treatment

New research has found another drug that improves survival in those hospitalised and seriously ill with COVID-19.

Dr Sophie Fletcher leads Southampton’s part in the national RECOVERY trial, which has shown the drug baricitinib reduces COVID-19 deaths in hospitals.

Baricitinib has anti-inflammatory properties and is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Its beneficial effects on survival added to those provided by dexamethasone and tocilizumab, two anti-inflammatory treatments already being given to COVID-19 patients.

Added benefit on existing treatments

Over 8,000 patients hospitalised with COVID-19 took part. All participants received usual care throughout the trial. Half of the participants also took baricitinib once a day for up to 10 days.

Treatment with baricitinib significantly reduced deaths. 513 of the patients in the baricitinib group died compared with 546 patients in the usual care group within 28 days, a reduction of 13%.

The benefit of baricitinib was consistent, regardless of which other COVID-19 treatments the patients were also receiving, including corticosteroids, tocilizumab, or the anti-viral drug remdesivir.

Fourth life-saving RECOVERY treatment

The Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial, led by the University of Oxford, has been testing potential treatments for patients hospitalised with COVID-19 since March 2020.

University Hospital Southampton (UHS) is one of 178 hospitals across the UK who are part of the trial. Dr Sophie Fletcher, Consultant Respiratory Physician at UHS, leads the trial locally.

Baricitnib is the fourth treatment the trial has shown to save lives. The previous three were the steroid dexamethasone, the arthritis treatment tocilizumab, and a combination of antibodies (casirivimab and imdevimab) known as Ronapreve.

These discoveries have changed clinical practice worldwide and been credited with saving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives.

Dr Fletcher said: “The RECOVERY trial has delivered yet another life-saving treatment, and we are proud to have been part of this. Thank you to all the healthcare professionals and volunteers in Southampton who helped us achieve this.

“As we transition to living with COVID-19, these drugs will help us protect those in our community who remain vulnerable.”