GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is set to trial an investigational rheumatoid arthritis drug otilimab for the treatment of pneumonia caused by Covid-19 infection.

GSK identified the drug after screening its portfolio and pipeline for potential against Covid-19. The company acquired the rights to otilimab from German biotech firm MorphoSys in 2013, noted Reuters.

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According to a company spokesman, otilimab could potentially ease the effect of the coronavirus on the lungs but not suppress it directly.

The drug’s trial will enrol approximately 800 Covid-19 patients, as per website ClinicalTrials.gov. Initial data are expected to be available by the end of this year.

FierceBiotech quoted GSK as saying: “We believe that otilimab may be able to help to block the effects of one of the types of cytokine (known as GM-CSF). We plan to start a phase 2 clinical trial by the end of May.”

According to the news agency, the supply of the drug is ‘currently being used for the Covid-19 and rheumatoid arthritis trials’ but GSK will work to maximise the supply if the drug yields positive results in Covid-19 trials.

A spokesperson was quoted as saying: “We will work with regulators and manufacturing partners to determine how to provide access of otilimab to patients with Covid-19 who urgently need treatments.”

GSK initially joined Covid-19 efforts with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) alliance, under which the company agreed to provide access to its pandemic vaccine adjuvant platform to help support Covid-19 vaccine candidates.

The company also agreed to invest $250m in Vir Biotechnology for the research and development (R&D) of antibodies to treat Covid-19 infection.

Furthermore, GSK signed a letter of intent for a partnership with Sanofi to develop an adjuvanted vaccine for Covid-19.

Roche is another company studying a rheumatoid arthritis drug to treat Covid-19 pneumonia. Roche unit Genentech received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to conduct a Phase III trial of its rheumatoid arthritis drug Actemra (tocilizumab) for adults with severe Covid-19 pneumonia.