Artificial Intelligence: Baricitinib, An AI-flagged Rheumatoid Drug, Could Treat COVID-19

Four new independent studies show that baricitinib has promise in the treatment of COVID-19

Back in February 2020, researchers at BenevolentAI were sifting through its drugs database. Benevolent is a British company that uses artificial intelligence in drug discovery. Their objective: to find a drug that could be repurposed for treating COVID 19. They found that baricitinib, a drug used for rheumatoid arthritis developed by Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY), could be used to treat the deadly virus disease afflicting the globe. (Sifted)

Key to the discovery – a different approach

The researchers did not look for a suitable antiviral drug in their database. Instead, they hunted for one that could disrupt the processes used by the virus to attack the human body.

“It still makes the hair stand up at the back of my neck, thinking about it,” said Peter Richardson, vice president of pharmacology at BenevolentAI to Sifted. He was describing the moment when he realized that baricitinib could be the solution they were looking for.

Notably, Richardson and his team of three part-time researchers took just three days to discover the potential of baricitinib using artificial intelligence.

They informed the medical journal The Lancet about the discovery.  That set off a wave of trials across the globe including at Eli Lilly.

New studies indicate the potential of baricitinib

Four independent studies, three in Italy and one in the US indicate that baricitinib could curb cytokine storms. These are the extreme, virus-triggered, immune reactions in the human body. They frequently cause fatalities among COVID 19 patients.

The Hospital of Prato in Italy performed one of the larger trials. In the test, they treated 113 COVID 19 patients with the drug. Compared to a control group of 78 patients who did not receive baricitinib and reported five deaths, there were no deaths among those treated with baricitinib.

The studies only give a glimmer of hope, an early indication, that baricitinib could be effective in treating COVID 19 patients.

A course of this drug costs about $500. It’ss much cheaper than a 10-day course of remdesivir, which could cost $2,340 in the US.

Results from global trials conducted by the NIAID and Eli Lilly will arrive in the next 6 to 8 weeks.

If the trials prove the effectiveness of baricitinib, it would also be a validation for the use of AI in drug discovery.

Related Story:  AI May Provide Early Warning of Heart Damage Due to COVID

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