Rheumatoid arthritis

Baricitinib suggested as a treatment for coronavirus

An artificial intelligence (AI) company has suggested that baricitinib (Olumiant) could a treatment for the novel coronavirus causing pandemic pneumonia.

With no treatment yet available for the rapidly spreading fatal respiratory tract infection, an urgent search is underway to identify candidate drugs.

Writing in the Lancet, analysts for BenevolentAI, a UK-based AI venture, said they had applied machine learning to scan the medical literature on current drugs to look for potential treatments for the virus and had identified the JAK inhibitor baricitinib as having the potential to reduce the ability of coronavirus to infect lung cells.

They based their investigation on the notion that 2019-nCoV may use the ACE2 receptor to infect lung AT2 alveolar epithelial cells. Their AI program then looked for regulators of endocytosis and focused on inhibitors of the AP2-associated protein kinase 1 (AAK1).

“Disruption of AAK1 might … interrupt the passage of the virus into cells and also the intracellular assembly of virus particles,” they wrote.

The AI model identified baricitinib as a high affinity AAK1 inhibitor, as well as binding the cyclin G-associated kinase, another regulator of endocytosis.

“Because the plasma concentration of baricitinib on therapeutic dosing … is sufficient to inhibit AAK1, we suggest it could be trialled, using an appropriate patient population with 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease, to reduce both the viral entry and the inflammation in patients,” they suggested.

However the proposal was met with scepticism from some clinicians on social media, who pointed out that a drug used for its immunosuppressant effects would be an unlikely choice as a treatment for a severe infection.

Other drugs being considered as potential treatment for 2019-nCoV include Gilead’s experimental antiviral remdesivir and the anti-HIV lopinavir plus ritonavir combination.”

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