Lilly's rheumatoid arthritis drug cuts COVID-19 deaths in trial, data shows

FILE PHOTO: Eli Lilly logo is shown on one of the company's offices in San Diego, California, U.S., September 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) - Eli Lilly and Co LLY.N said on Thursday fewer deaths were reported among COVID-19 patients taking a combination of its rheumatoid arthritis drug and Gilead Sciences Inc's GILD.O remdesivir in a clinical trial, compared to only remdesivir.

Lilly said the effect was most pronounced in patients on oxygen therapy, according to data from a U.S. government-backed trial, which however, was not designed to measure the effectiveness of baricitinib in preventing death.

In-line with data disclosed in September, the combination helped shorten the median recovery time by one day compared to remdesivir, meeting the study’s main goal.

Lilly said 5.1% of patients on the drug combination died after 29 days versus 7.8% patients given remdesivir, which is already authorized in the U.S. for treating COVID-19 patients, and a placebo.

Baricitinib, licensed by Lilly from Incyte Corp INCY.O and approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis in the United States, could help suppress a potentially lethal immune response to COVID-19 called "cytokine storm".

Lilly said it was in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to gain emergency use authorization for treating COVID-19 patients.

Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli