Within 5 months of the first patients with Covid in UK intensive care, we discovered that the activity of a gene, TYK2, was stongly associated with severe illness in COVID-19 patients.
In August 2020, we asked a simple question – are people who tend to produce more TYK2 more likely to progress to life threatening Covid? And we found that they were, suggesting that inhibiting this protein might improve outcomes. There was already a class of drugs already available that can do this, known as ‘JAK inhibitors’. Specifically, TYK2 is the gene for one of four proteins affected directly by baricitinib.
We shared this result with the world as soon as it was available, specifically with the steering committee of the RECOVERY trial, the UK therapeutics prioritisation panel (UK-CTAP), SAGE, the REMAP-CAP trial, and the WHO committee on clinical management.
In addition to the evidence from GenOMICC, there was corroborating clinical evidence from small trials. Almost immediately, the decision was taken to include baricitinib in the RECOVERY trial, which has now demonstrated that baricitinib reduces mortality in patients hospitalised with severe Covid-19, in addition to existing therapies (dexamethasone and anti-IL6 treatments).
This is, to our knowledge, the first example of a new treatment for an infectious disease being discovered using human genetics.
Read about the discovery here – BBC News