WHO ‘Strongly’ Recommends Baricitinib for COVID-19 Patients: What Is It?

In its latest COVID guidelines, WHO 'strongly recommends' the Baricitinib antibody treatment for critical patients.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Baricitinib COVID-19 treatment recommended by WHO.</p></div>

In its latest edition of the Therapeutics and COVID-19: living guideline, the World Health Organisation has recommended the use of Baricitinib for use in patients with severe illness.

According to the WHO's latest statement updated on 14 January, Baricitinib should be administered combined with corticosteroids to patients with severe or critical COVID-19.

What is Baricitinib? What are the side effects associated with it? Who should be taking it? FIT breaks it down.


What does WHO's recommendation say?

Along with making the recommendation, the WHO's statement published in the Science Journal BMJ says, "WHO’s Guideline Development Group found moderate certainty evidence that baricitinib improved survival and reduced the need for ventilation, with no observed increase in adverse effects."

At the same time, WHO also advices against using similar drugs— two other JAK inhibitors—ruxolitinib and tofacitinib, in patients with severe or critical COVID-19, citing a high risk of side effects.

Is it a new drug?

No, Baricitinib has been in use for a while now as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

How does it work?

Baricitinib is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor. It works by inhibiting intercellular signalling pathways, preventing a cytokine storm and slowing down the progression of the infection.

Can Baricitinib be used to prevent COVID-19?

No, the drug has not been authorised to be used as preventive treatment or prophylactic for COVID-19.

Who is it recommended for?

Baricitinib has been recommended by the WHO only for patients who are critically ill with severe COVID-19.

The US FDA granted EUA approval to the drug in July 2021, to be taken by in laboroty confirmed cases of COVID-19 patients aged 2 and above requiring oxygen or ventilator support.

WHO's new recommendation has been made after analysing the results of several later studies that point to its effectiveness when used in combination with corticosteroids.

What are its side effects?

According to MayoClinic, some of the common side effects of Baricitinib include,

  • Body aches and headache

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Ear congestion

  • Fever

  • Fatigue and weakness

According to a fact sheet released by the US FDA, COVID-19 patients treatmed with baricitinibrun the risk of developing venous thrombosis, including pulmonary embolism, and serious infections.

Patients may also develop other side effects associated with steroid overuse.

Who should not be taking it?

According to the US Food and Drugs Administration, Baricitinib is not recommended for,

  • Patients of tuberculosis

  • Those who are on dialysis

  • Those who have end-stage renal disease, or have acute kidney injury

Is the treatment available in India?

Considering the drug has been in use for a while now, as a treatment for arthritis, it is available in the Indian market under different brand names.

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