Keck Medicine will reportedly launch a clinical trial to study an anti-inflammatory drug’s effects on the COVID-19 infected patients. The baricitinib drug has been approved by the FDA to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

According to Dr. Michael Dube, an infectious disease specialist at Keck Medicine and interim chief of infectious disease at Keck School of Medicine, inflammation due to coronavirus is expected to be the underlying cause of severe respiratory complications among patients, which leads to hospitalization & intubation. Excessive body inflammation is the primary problem among patients with critical illness, which affects their lungs and other organs. The recent medication appears to impact some key inflammation pathways that lead to critical illness in patients with COVID-19.

Heinz-Josef Lenz, USC Norris’s associate director of clinical research, serves as the clinical study’s main investigator. The researchers will reportedly start enrolling patients for the clinical trial within the next few days. The 3-month, double-blind study will examine the baricitinib effects among 144 random patients infected by COVID-19, showing moderate to severe symptoms, from LAC+USC Medical Center, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, and Keck Hospital of USC. The drug will be offered to half the patients, with the other half to receive the placebo.

The company reportedly stated that the moderately infected patients have at least 1 risk factor, such as high blood pressure, morbid obesity, diabetes, and age greater than 60, in addition to the signs and symptoms of pneumonia and coronavirus. In some patients, the coronavirus can trigger the cytokine storm, which is an immune response that can potentially damage the tissue and lead to organ failure. However, baricitinib reportedly lowers certain cytokines’ levels.

Both Lenz and Dube will work with the translational genomics’ assistant professor, Bodour Salhia, during the clinical trial. Salhia will collect patients’ blood samples to identify the molecular biomarkers that show patients at high risk of developing severe symptoms.

As per the public health guidelines, Keck is resuming services and taking several precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of the employees.

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