The latest recommendations spark new calls for patent exemptions to give more people access to treatments.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has added two more drugs to its guidelines for recommended treatments for COVID-19 as the more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus is causing an unprecedented increase in cases around the world.
The drug baricitinib, also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, is “highly recommended” for patients with severe or critical COVID-19, in combination with corticosteroids, the UN agency’s panel of international experts said in the guidelines released. were published by the British Medical magazine.
The drug reduces the need for ventilation and has been shown to improve patients’ survival rates with no signs of an increase in side effects, the panel said.
The panel also gave a “conditional recommendation” for sotrovimab, an experimental monoclonal antibody treatment, for people with non-severe COVID-19 but at the highest risk of hospitalization. Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made compounds that mimic the body’s natural defense mechanism.
The new treatment recommendations come as the pandemic accelerates worldwide. More than 15 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported to the WHO in the past week — by far the most in one week — driven by the Omicron variant, which replaces the Delta variant almost everywhere.
The recommendations were based on new evidence from seven studies involving more than 4,000 patients with non-severe, severe and critical cases of COVID-19.
The “guideline supplements previous recommendations for the use of interleukin-6 receptor blockers and systemic corticosteroids in patients with severe or critical covid-19; conditional recommendations for the use of casirivimab-imdevimab (another monoclonal antibody treatment) in selected patients; and against the use of restorative plasma, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine in patients with Covid-19, regardless of disease severity,” the WHO said in a statement.
The French humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) welcomed the new recommendations and urged governments to address patent protections to ensure that as many people as possible can benefit from the treatments.
Baricitinib is produced by US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, and while generic versions are available in India and Bangladesh, there are patents in effect in many other countries, including Brazil and Indonesia.
“For nearly two years we have been helplessly witnessing the death of people from COVID-19 amid catastrophic waves of disease. In countries where Médecins Sans Frontières works,” said Dr. Márcio da Fonseca, infectious disease medical advisor for the MSF Access Campaign in a statement.
“The opportunities to provide high-level intensive care are limited, so saving more lives for people with serious and critical infections relies heavily on access to affordable drugs that we can add to the steroids, oxygen and closely supportive care we provide.” already offer in our projects. When new treatments emerge, it will simply be inhumane for them to remain unavailable in a resource-constrained environment just because they are patented and too expensive.”
The WHO added to its list of treatments for COVID-19 last July what it believes were “life-saving” interleukin-6 receptor blockers. It recommended the use of corticosteroids in September 2020.
In recent weeks, government regulators have also approved new oral treatments for the disease, including Paxlovid, Pfizer’s antiviral pill, which was nearly 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalization and death in at-risk patients. It also maintained its effectiveness with Omicron, the company said.