Novartis, Incyte join repurposing wave to give Jakavi a trial run in COVID-19


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ZURICH, April 3 (Reuters) - Novartis NOVN.S and Incyte INCY.O plan to test their drug Jakavi in patients with coronavirus-caused COVID-19, joining other firms including Roche ROG.S and Sanofi SASY.PA hoping to repurpose older medicines to help critically ill patients.

Jakavi is used in adults with bone marrow cancer, or myelofibrosis, among other conditions. Novartis and Incyte want to see if it helps COVID-19 patients suffering from an immune system overreaction, also called a cytokine storm.

They are still putting together trial details, Novartis said.

The lack of an approved treatment for COVID-19 has prompted companies and doctors to rush back to their medicine cabinets in a desperate hunt for something to help keep thousands more patients from dying than standard care alone.

Roche has announced trials of its arthritis drug Actemra while Sanofi and Regeneron REGN.O are testing their arthritis medicine Kevzara against severe immune reactions that endanger coronavirus patients' lives. Some data from China suggest medicines against cytokine storms help save patients.

"The potential that Jakavi could lead to faster recovery times for COVID-19 patients with fewer requiring intensive care and mechanical ventilation is encouraging and absolutely merits further investigation," said John Tsai, Novartis's top drug developer.

Novartis plans a compassionate use programme for COVID-19 access, while making sure there is enough Jakavi to go around for approved indications, it said. Jakavi had $1.1 billion in sales for Novartis last year, and $1.7 billion for Incyte, which sells it in the United States under the name Jakafi.

Novartis previously joined other companies including Mylan MYL.O, Teva TEVA.TA and Bayer BAYGn.DE in donating older malaria drugs that are also undergoing trials and being used in emergency settings.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi)

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