The latest recommendations have sparked calls for new patent exemptions to allow more people access to treatment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has added two drugs to its recommended treatment guidelines for COVID-19 as the more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus sparked an unprecedented surge in cases worldwide.
Baricitinib, also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, is “strongly recommended” in combination with corticosteroids in severe or critically ill COVID-19 patients, an international panel of experts from the UN agency said in guidelines issued in the UK.
The drug reduced the need for ventilation and was found to improve patients’ chances of survival without any sign of increased adverse effects, the panel said.
The panel also made a “conditional recommendation” for sotrovimab, an experimental monoclonal antibody therapy, for the treatment of patients with non-severe COVID-19 who are at highest risk for hospitalization. Monoclonal antibodies are lab-created compounds that mimic the body’s natural defense mechanisms.
The new treatment recommendations come as the global pandemic accelerates. More than 15 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO last week – by far the most in a single week – driven by the Omicron variant, which has replaced the Delta variant almost everywhere.
These recommendations are based on new evidence from seven trials involving more than 4,000 patients with non-severe, severe and critically ill COVID-19 cases.
“This guideline adds to previous recommendations for interleukin-6 receptor blockers and systemic corticosteroids in patients with severe or critically ill covid-19; cascilimab-imdeimab (another monoclonal corticosteroid) in selected patients Antibody therapy); and against the use of convalescent plasma, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine in patients with COVID-19, regardless of disease severity,” WHO said in a statement.
French humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomed the new recommendations and urged governments to address patent protection to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from treatment.
Baricitinib is made by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, and while generic versions are available in India and Bangladesh, the patent is valid in many other countries, including Brazil and Indonesia.
“For almost two years, we have watched helplessly as people die from COVID-19 in a catastrophic wave of disease. In countries where MSF works,” Marcio Da, an infectious disease medical consultant for MSF’s campaign Dr. Fonseca said in a statement.
“The possibilities for providing high-level intensive care are limited, so saving the lives of more severely and critically infected people relies heavily on access to affordable medicines that we can add to the steroids, oxygen and Our program in close supportive care. As new treatments emerge, it would be inhumane if they remain unavailable in resource-limited settings, simply because they are patented and prohibitively expensive.”
In recent weeks, government regulators have also approved new oral treatments for the disease, including Paxlovid, Pfizer’s antiviral pills, showed nearly 90% efficacy in preventing hospitalization and death in high-risk patients. The company said it also retained its validity with Omicron.