WHO has recommended two new drugs for COVID-19, providing yet more options for treating the disease. The extent to which these medicines will save lives depends on how widely available and affordable they will be.
According to WHO, the first drug, baricitinib, is strongly recommended for patients with severe or critical COVID-19. It is part of a class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors that suppress the overstimulation of the immune system. WHO recommends that it is given with corticosteroids.
WHO has also conditionally recommended the use of a monoclonal antibody drug, sotrovimab, for treating mild or moderate COVID-19 in patients who are at high risk of hospitalization. This includes patients who are older, immunocompromised, having underlying conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, and those unvaccinated.
Sotrovimab is an alternative to casirivimab-imdevimab, a monoclonal antibody cocktail recommended by WHO in September 2021. Studies are ongoing on the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies against Omicron but early laboratory studies show that sotrovimab retains its activity.
The two newly recommended drugs – baricitinib and sotrovimab – have been invited for WHO Prequalification, which assesses the quality, efficacy and safety of priority health products to increase access in lower income countries.