Physicians express skepticism about Lilly arthritis drug OK'd as COVID-19 treatment

Physicians told The New York Times they're unclear on when to use Eli Lilly's arthritis drug, Olumiant — which was given emergency approval from the FDA to use in combination with remdesivir as a COVID-19 treatment — instead of cheaper steroids such as dexamethasone.

They said the drug doesn't appear to work well, comes with side effects like blood clots and is expensive at $1,500 per patient. 

"I’m asking myself, 'Who would I think about using baricitinib in, over dexamethasone?'" Phyllis Tien, MD, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Times

In clinical trials, Olumiant, which also goes by the generic name baricitinib, in combination with remdesivir helped COVID-19 patients recover one day faster than those who took just remdesivir. Remdesivir by itself speeds recovery time by several days. 

"I think it’s really a nothing burger," Ilan Schwartz, MD, PhD, an infectious disease physician at the University of Alberta, told the Times. "We’re talking about adding a drug that reduces the time to clinical improvement by one day, in a disease that takes weeks to recover."

The results of the trials haven't been published in a peer-reviewed journal, though an Eli Lilly spokesperson told the Times they would be published "very soon."

With an emergency authorization but no detailed data, physicians are in "a difficult place," Manuela Cernadas, MD, a critical care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the Times. "It’s not entirely clear where this drug fits in our armamentarium of drugs we’re comfortable using."

Some experts told the Times Olumiant would need far better results to justify the price and side effects. 

Read the full article here.


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