WHO recommends two new drugs to treat COVID-19

Jan. 19, 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended two new drugs for treating COVID-19.

The first drug, baricitinib, is recommended for patients with severe or critical COVID-19. It is part of a class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors that suppress the overstimulation of the immune system. The WHO said the drug should be given with corticosteroids.

Baricitinib is an oral drug, used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It provides an alternative to other arthritis drugs called Interleukin-6 receptor blockers, which were recommended by WHO in July 2021.

WHO has also conditionally recommended the use of a monoclonal antibody drug, sotrovimab, for treating mild or moderate COVID-19 in patients who are at high risk of hospitalization. This includes patients who are older; immunocompromised; have underlying conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity; or are not vaccinated. 

Sotrovimab is an alternative to casirivimab-imdevimab, a monoclonal antibody cocktail recommended by WHO in September 2021. “Studies are ongoing on the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies against Omicron, but early laboratory studies show that sotrovimab retains its activity,” the WHO said.

The panel of experts developing the guidelines also looked at two other drugs for severe and critical COVID-19: ruxolitinib and tofacitinib. Given their uncertain effects, the WHO said it made “a conditional recommendation against their use.”

The WHO said it is in discussions with manufacturers to "secure global supply capacity and equitable and sustainable access" to these therapeutics. "The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) Therapeutics pillar has been engaging with pharmaceutical companies to seek comprehensive access plans for low- and middle-income countries, so that these treatments can be rapidly deployed everywhere, not just in rich countries. The ACT-A is also looking to expand licensing scope to make the products more affordable," the WHO said.

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