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NHS rolls out life-saving arthritis drug to treat COVID

The NHS is rolling out a cutting-edge, life-saving COVID treatment, which is proven to save lives when given to the most seriously ill COVID patients in hospital.

The RECOVERY trial carried out through the NHS found that 13% fewer severely ill patients died of COVID when treated with arthritis drug baricitinib compared to existing treatment options. Typically used to treat arthritis to reduce pain and inflammation, baricitinib can now be given to hospitalised COVID patients in addition to current treatments, and clinical studies show that this can provide benefits on top of existing treatment.

It is the latest in an armoury of COVID treatments that the NHS has at its disposal, which now includes three repurposed arthritis drugs – with baricitinib joining tocilizumab and sarilumab – that have treated more than 32,000 of the most severely ill COVID patients in hospital.

The NHS has led the rollout of COVID medicines, from the discovery of dexamethasone as the world’s first effective treatment, to the first vaccination outside of a clinical trial in December 2020.

These arthritis drugs work by reducing inflammation caused by COVID-19 by blocking signals to the immune system that are causing it to attack the body. Baricitinib bolsters the options at doctors disposal when looking to treat hospitalised patients in the most effective way and can be used to supplement other COVID treatments in patients aged two and over.

As well as these arthritis drugs, the NHS continues to use other monoclonal antibody and antiviral treatments, and combined these COVID medicines have been given to hundreds of thousands of patients, saving tens of thousands of lives.

Using existing drugs in different ways is part of the world-leading innovation that is being carried out by the NHS, in line with the Long Term Plan commitment to develop and implement cutting-edge treatments.

NHS Medical Director Professor Steve Powis said: “The more effective COVID treatments within the NHS arsenal, the more options doctors have to help patients who become seriously ill with COVID, preventing hospital admissions and saving lives.

“This is the fourth drug that has been fast-tracked for use on the NHS thanks to the world-leading RECOVERY trial and is just as important because it gives our hard-working clinicians another life-saving treatment option and strengthens our defence against COVID-19.

“Finding ways to beat COVID has showcased the very best of the NHS’s power to find creative and innovative ways to care for patients and implement new treatments, which includes in this case successfully repurposing an existing drug to treat a deadly virus”.

The agreement to offer baricitinib to treat COVID patients in hospital follows that of similar drugs, tocilizumab and sarilumab, which are also routinely used for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

It will be the seventh COVID treatment approved in total for use on the NHS, and will be used to treat hospitalised patients in line with MHRA guidance.

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