FDA Authorizes Baricitinib Combo for COVID-19

Marcia Frellick

November 19, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the janus kinase inhibitor baricitinib (Olumiant, Eli Lilly) in combination with remdesivir (Veklury, Gilead) for treating hospitalized adults and children at least 2 years old with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

The combination treatment is meant for patients who need supplemental oxygen, mechanical ventilation, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

Baricitinib + remdesivir was shown in a clinical trial to reduce time to recovery within 29 days of starting the treatment compared with a control group who received placebo plus remdesivir, according to the FDA press release.

The median time to recovery from COVID-19 was 7 days for the combination group vs 8 days for those in the placebo plus remdesivir group. Recovery was defined as either discharge from the hospital or "being hospitalized but not requiring supplemental oxygen and no longer requiring ongoing medical care," the agency explained in the press release.

The odds of a patient dying or being ventilated at day 29 was lower in the combination group compared with those taking placebo + remdesivir, the press release said without providing specific data. "For all of these endpoints, the effects were statistically significant," the agency stated.

The safety and efficacy continues to be evaluated. Baricitinib alone is not approved as a treatment for COVID-19.

"The FDA's emergency authorization of this combination therapy represents an incremental step forward in the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized patients, and FDA's first authorization of a drug that acts on the inflammation pathway," said Patrizia Cavazzoni, MD, acting director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

“Despite advances in the management of COVID-19 infection since the onset of the pandemic, we need more therapies to accelerate recovery and additional clinical research will be essential to identifying therapies that slow disease progression and lower mortality in the sicker patients,” she said.

As a JAK inhibitor, baricitinib interferes with a pathway that leads to inflammation. Baricitinib is already prescribed as an oral medication and is FDA-approved for treating moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.

The data supporting the EUA for the combination treatment are based on a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial (ACTT-2), conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The trial followed patients for 29 days and included 1033 patients with moderate to severe COVID-19; 515 patients received baricitinib plus remdesivir, and 518 patients received placebo plus remdesivir.

The FDA emphasizes that an EUA is not a full FDA approval.

In reviewing the combination, the FDA "determined that it is reasonable to believe that baricitinib, in combination with remdesivir, may be effective in treating COVID-19 for the authorized population" and the known benefits outweigh the known and potential risks. Additionally, there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives for the treatment population.

"Today's action demonstrates the FDA's steadfast efforts to make potential COVID-19 treatments available in a timely manner, where appropriate, while continuing to support research to further evaluate whether they are safe and effective," said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD. "As part of our Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program, the FDA continues to use every possible avenue to facilitate new treatments for patients as quickly as possible to combat COVID-19."

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick

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