BACKGROUND. COVID-19 patients develop pneumonia generally associated to lymphopenia and severe inflammatory response due to uncontrolled cytokine release. These mediators are transcriptionally regulated by the JAK-STAT signaling pathways, which can be disabled by small molecules. METHODS. A group of subjects (n = 20) was treated with baricitinib according to an off-label use of the drug. The study was designed as an observational longitudinal trial and approved by the local ethical committee. The patients were treated with baricitinib 4 mg twice daily for 2 days, followed by 4 mg per day for the remaining 7 days. Changes in the immune phenotype and expression of pSTAT3 in blood cells were evaluated and correlated with serum-derived cytokine levels and antibodies anti-SARS-CoV-2. In a single treated patient, we evaluated also the alteration of myeloid cell functional activity. RESULTS. We provided evidences that baricitinib-treated patients have a marked reduction in serum levels of interleukin (IL)-6, IL-1β and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, a rapid recovery in circulating T and B cell frequencies, and increased antibody production against SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which were clinically associated with a reduction in oxygen flow need and progressive increase in the P/F. CONCLUSION. Baricitinib prevented the progression towards a severe/extreme form of the viral disease by modulating the patients’ immune landscape and these changes were associated with a safer and favorable clinical outcome of patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. TRIAL REGISTRATION. The ClinicalTrials.gov identifier of this project is protocol NCT04438629. FUNDING. This work was supported by Fondazione Cariverona (ENACT Project) and Fondazione TIM.
Vincenzo Bronte, Stefano Ugel, Elisa Tinazzi, Antonio Vella, Francesco De Sanctis, Stefania Canè, Veronica Batani, Rosalinda Trovato, Alessandra Fiore, Varvara Petrova, Francesca Hofer, Roza Maria Barouni, Chiara Musiu, Simone Caligola, Laura Pinton, Lorena Torroni, Enrico Polati, Katia Donadello, Simonetta Friso, Francesca Pizzolo, Manuela Iezzi, Federica Facciotti, Pier Giuseppe Pelicci, Daniela Righetti, Paolo Bazzoni, Mariaelisa Rampudda, Andrea C. Comel, Walter Mosaner, Claudio Lunardi, Oliviero Olivieri