It can take up to 12 years for a drug to receive regulatory approval for use in patients – even if those drugs have already undergone safety studies for use in other conditions.
Baricitinib – which had previously been used to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis – was repurposed as a covid drug, receiving regulatory approval in just ten months after experts used AI to show how the treatment could reduce deaths of hospitalised covid patients by forty per cent.
This led to global trials in dozens of countries involving thousands of patients which showed the drug could be used to reduce the chance of dying of covid in severely ill patients by as much as forty percent.
Professor Justin Stebbing, a leading cancer expert at Imperial College, London, began working on the new therapy for covid-19 in mid-January 2020 – two months before the WHO declared a global pandemic.
In his new book – Witness to Covid 2020 – to be published on Monday, Professor Stebbing, showed how baricitinib was taken from lab research to patients in under a year.
In a series of unprecedented studies that began in January 2020 – shortly after the first news of the virus had emerged from Wuhan, China – Professor Stebbing and his team used artificial intelligence to show the drug could be used to reduce the cytokine storm – a severe and deadly immune reaction to covid, but also stop the virus spreading inside cells.
Their first paper – which has since been cited over 1,000 times – was published in February 2020 after it was accepted by the leading journal The Lancet in just three minutes.
Professor Stebbing then supervised international collaborations including laboratory work and trials, in Italy, the US and many other countries, which led to its regulatory approval to treat hospitalised patients with COVID-19, 10 months later.
Professor Stebbing, said: “This is one of the first COVID-19 treatments to go from computer to clinic and laboratory and it went from computer to bedside in record time. It was first identified by an AI algorithm in February, which scanned thousands of potential drugs that could work against this virus.”
In Witness to Covid, Professor Stebbing tracks the development of covid-19 and its treatments over the past 18 months describes the ups and downs of the global response to the pandemic showing how the world coped.
His book highlights the infodemic of misinformation, flawed research but also the “supersonic speed of true global collaboration”.