An arthritis drug discovered by AI could reduce the risk of elderly people dying from COVID-19, according to a new study.
The once-daily medicine, called baricitinib, was first identified as a potential treatment for the virus by BenevolentAI, a startup based in London.
The company used its AI software to comb through scientific literature for drugs that might block the infection process. The most promising treatment it discovered was baricitinib, which it predicted could stop the infection from entering lung cells.
The new study has now shown the drug’s safety and efficacy in the largest group of patients published thus far.
Scientists from Imperial College London and Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet gave baricitinib to 83 COVID-19 patients with a median age of 81 who were being treated in hospitals across Italy and Spain.
They found that patients receiving baricitinib had a 71% reduction in mortality compared to the 83 people in the control group who had not taken the drug.
In addition, only 17% of the patients given baricitinib died or required a ventilator, compared to 35% of the patients who received only standard care.
The study suggests the drug could both reduce organ damage caused by inflammation and block the virus from entering human cells.
“We urgently need to find more effective treatments for COVID-19 while we wait for a vaccine to become widely available,” said Imperial’s Professor Justin Stebbing, the study‘s co-lead author. “This is one of the first COVID-19 treatments to go from computer to clinic and laboratory.”
The findings are now being followed up with large-scale clinical trials. You can read the research paper in the journal Science Advances.