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UVA Health repurposes drug to treat COVID-19

Randi B. Hagi / WMRA 

A drug tested at UVA Health has now been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat severe COVID-19. Baricitinib, which was already being used to treat some autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, now can be used for hospitalized COVID patients.

"Every additional tool we have to help patients get better is really valuable," said Dr. Patrick Jackson, who was UVA Health's principal investigator in the Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial, which tested this drug and others in hospitals around the world. "Patients who received baricitinib recovered faster and were able to get out of the hospital faster than patients that received a placebo."

The drug works by reducing inflammation throughout the body.

"What we're seeing is folks who have more severe disease have a lot of inflammation, and that causes their need for additional oxygen," Jackson continued. "In most infectious diseases, we believe that the damage to the body is caused by a combination of both the pathogen that's replicating in the body, as well as the side effects of the body's natural immune response to that pathogen."

More than 40 UVA Health COVID patients volunteered for the trial.

"It's really through the generosity of these folks who volunteered to participate in the trials that we've learned so much about this disease and have developed treatments that are now being used to save lives around the world," said Jackson, who added that one of UVA Health's ongoing priorities is finding existing drugs that can be repurposed to help COVID patients recuperating at home.