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Lilly's rheumatoid arthritis drug cuts COVID-19 deaths in trial, data shows

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Lilly is seen on a wall of the Lilly France company unit, part of the Eli Lilly and Co drugmaker group, in Fegersheim near Strasbourg, France, February 1, 2018. 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

(Reuters) - Eli Lilly and Co said on Thursday fewer deaths were reported among COVID-19 patients taking a combination of its rheumatoid arthritis drug and Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir in a clinical trial, compared to only remdesivir.

Lilly said the effect was most pronounced in patients on oxygen therapy, according to data from a U.S. government-backed trial, which however, was not designed to measure the effectiveness of baricitinib in preventing death.

In-line with data disclosed in September, the combination helped shorten the median recovery time by one day compared to remdesivir, meeting the study’s main goal.

Lilly said 5.1% of patients on the drug combination died after 29 days versus 7.8% patients given remdesivir, which is already authorized in the U.S. for treating COVID-19 patients, and a placebo.

Baricitinib, licensed by Lilly from Incyte Corp and approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis in the United States, could help suppress a potentially lethal immune response to COVID-19 called “cytokine storm”.

Lilly said it was in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to gain emergency use authorization for treating COVID-19 patients.

Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli