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WHO recommends Eli Lilly, GSK-Vir’s drugs, to expand treatment pool for COVID-19

WHO recommends Eli Lilly, GSK-Vir's drugs, to expand treatment pool for COVID-19

The World Health Organization logo is pictured at the entrance to the WHO building, in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 20, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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Jan 13 (Reuters) – A World Health Organization (WHO) panel recommended the use of two drugs by Eli Lilly (LLY.N)and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and Vir Biotechnology (VIR.O) for COVID-19 patients, adding treatment options as the rapidly spreading Omicron variant renders many ineffective.

WHO data shows that Omicron, which evades the protection of many vaccines and therapies, has been identified in 149 countries. It is quickly replacing Delta as the dominant variant in several countries, forcing governments and scientists to bolster defenses with tests, shots, and therapies.

The panel Thursday strongly recommended Lilly’s baricitinib, sold under the brand name Olumiant, for patients with severe COVID-19 in combination with corticosteroids, while conditionally endorsed GSK-Vir’s antibody therapy for non-severe patients at the highest risk of hospitalization.

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So far, GSK-Vir’s monoclonal antibody therapy is the only one to have shown efficacy in laboratory tests against Omicron, while similar treatments from Eli Lilly and Co. (LLY.N) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN.O) offered less protection in such tests.

The WHO experts noted that the effectiveness of treatments with monoclonal antibodies – lab-generated compounds that mimic the body’s natural defenses – against new variants such as Omicron was still uncertain, and said guidelines for this class of drugs will will be updated when additional data becomes available.

The WHO guidelines, published in the British Medical Journal, also noted that evidence shows that baricitinib improves survival and reduces the need for ventilation, with no observed increase in side effects.

French medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) welcomed the United Nations guidelines and said baricitinib could be a potential alternative to current WHO-recommended monoclonal antibody treatments that remain in short supply for governments and patients in many low- and middle-income countries. .

MSF also said governments should take steps to ensure patent monopolies do not stand in the way of access to treatment.

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Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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