Jan. 19, 2022


2 min read

WHO approves more COVID-19 drugs

WHO approves more COVID-19 drugs

The new COVID-19 drug, Baricitinib

Story highlights

  • The first drug, Baricitinib, is strongly recommended for patients with severe or critical COVID-19
  • WHO is in discussions with manufacturers to secure global supply capacity

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THE World Health Organisation (WHO), a specialised agency of the United Nations (UN) responsible for international public health has recommended two new drugs for COVID-19, providing yet more options for treating the disease.

WHO says the extent to which these medicines will save lives depends on how widely available and affordable they will be.

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.

Otherwise, Baricitinib is an oral drug, used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It provides an alternative to other arthritis drugs called Interleukin-6 receptor blockers, recommended by WHO in July 2021.

The global health body 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 hospitalisation.

This includes patients who are older, immunocompromised, having underlying conditions like diabetes, hypertension and obesity as well as those who are unvaccinated.

WHO says Sotrovimab is an alternative to Casirivimab-Imdevimab, a monoclonal antibody cocktail recommended in September 2021. It says studies are on-going on the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies against Omicron but early laboratory studies showed that Sotrovimab retains its activity.

WHO said the panel of experts was developing guidelines for two more other drugs for severe and critical COVID-19, including Ruxolitinib and Tofacitinib.

However, WHO has made a conditional recommendation against their use given their uncertain effects.

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It said the latest recommendations formed the eighth update of WHO’s living guidelines on therapeutics and COVID-19 based on evidence from seven trials involving over 4 000 patients with non-severe, severe and critical COVID-19.

WHO is in discussions with manufacturers to secure global supply capacity and equitable and sustainable access to the newly recommended therapeutics.

The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) Therapeutics pillar has been engaging with pharmaceutical companies to seek comprehensive access plans for low-and middle-income countries, so that these treatments can be rapidly deployed everywhere, not just in rich countries.

The ACT-A is also looking to expand licensing scope to make the products more affordable.

The two newly recommended drugs - Baricitinib and Sotrovimab - have been invited for WHO pre-qualification, which assesses the quality, efficacy and safety of priority health products in order to increase access in lower income countries like Lesotho. 


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