Researchers at Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the US have started a clinical trial to assess antiviral drug remdesivir plus rheumatoid arthritis medication baricitinib to treat hospitalised patients with severe Covid-19.

Named ACTT 2, the trial is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Montefiore was the first site to join the ACTT trial, which studied remdesivir given intravenously. Preliminary data revealed that patients treated with remdesivir recovered in 11 days on average compared to 15 days for those on placebo.

Of the total 1,063 participants, 91 were enrolled at Montefiore and Einstein. Trial findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The new ACTT 2 study, which is the next stage of ACTT trial, will assess the ability of remdesivir plus baricitinib in preventing or reducing the hyper-inflammatory cytokine storm in Covid-19 patients.

Montefiore Health System Moses division infectious diseases clinical director Barry Zingman said: “What concerns us is that in some people the immune response to coronavirus can be more deadly than the infection itself, and there is no known treatment for this yet.

“Including baricitinib in our trial may reduce Covid-19-related inflammation and combining baricitinib with remdesivir may yield an even more effective treatment option for people most severely affected by this illness.”

ACTT 2 is enrolling hospitalised Covid-19 patients with lung complications or the need for a mechanical ventilator.

All participants will be given remdesivir intravenously for up to 10 days while 50% of patients will also receive baricitinib orally. The remaining 50% will be administered an identical placebo for up to 14 days.

Remdesivir was developed by Gilead Sciences, while baricitinib was developed by Eli Lilly.