A London-based research company, BenevolentAI, started looking at possible ways to treat the COVID-19 back in late January. They were using technologies to scan scientific literature about the virus. For the past several years, the company has been building technology that can help locate information buried in the massive amounts of academic papers and other scientific literature that are available. When searching for items related to the virus, they used their technology’s automated language tools. The company’s engineers also created a detailed and intricately interconnected catalog of certain biological processes directly related to the virus. Once the information was compiled, a trained pharmacologist used additional tools to go through it, determine what it meant and map out any connections between human genes and the biological processes affected by the virus. Once the specific genes were identified, the next step was to determine if there were any existing medications that would work on those genes. Within two days of starting their search for potential treatments for the virus, they found a possible solution, a medication called baricitinib.
Baricitinib, made by Eli Lilly, is used to reduce the damage caused to the immune system from diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, and viruses, such as HIV, since these illnesses are known to cause an unwanted increase in activity of a person’s immune system, or cytokine storm. Since COVID-19 seems to be impacting the immune system in a similar manner, it’s hopeful that the medication will have a positive outcome in treating it. The researchers at BenevolentAI also discovered that baricitinib might even prevent an infection from occurring by blocking the way the virus enters cells. As a result of these findings, it’s being tested throughout the world and here, in the United States, at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
While the news of a possible treatment option is promising, further information is needed. In the meantime, places across the country are trying to figure out how to reopen. Recently, the state of Georgia has started that process despite having numerous objections for public health officials and others. One thing that is incredibly concerning about this particular reopening is highlighted in a new report issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report looked at patients of eight hospitals in Georgia during the month of March with seven of them being in Atlanta. It’s important to note that just over half of the residents in Atlanta are black. The study found that around four-fifths, or over 80%, of individualized hospitalized with the virus were black. The reason for this some scientists speculate that a good portion of frontline workers are black, so they’re more likely to be exposed to the virus. Another concern is that black individuals usually have pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which places them at an elevated risk for complications from the virus. Researchers did say that the study population was limited and further, larger studies needed to be conducted.