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Efficacy and Safety of Leflunomide for Refractory COVID-19: An Open-label Controlled Study

By Qiang Wang, Haipeng Guo, Yu Li, Xiangdong Jian, Xinguo Hou, Ning Zhong, Jianchun Fei, Dezhen Su, Zhouyan Bian, Yi Zhang, Yingying Hu, Yan Sun, Xueyan Yu, Yuan Li, Bei Jiang, Yan Li, Fengping Qin, Yingying Wu, Yanxia Gao, Zhao Hu

Posted 02 Jun 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.29.20114223

OBJECTIVE To evaluate the safety and efficacy of leflunomide for the treatment of refractory COVID-19 in adult patients. DESIGN Open-label controlled study SETTING A designated hospital for patients with refractory COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. PARTICIPANTS 27 hospitalized adult patients ([≥]18 years of age) with radiologically confirmed pneumonia and SARS-CoV-2 positive for more than 28 days despite standard care were assigned to receive standard of care (SOC, grp I) or leflunomide + SOC (grp 2). After 2 weeks, grp 1 and grp 2 patients who continued to be SARS-CoV-2-positive received leflunomide for 14 days while continuing SOC. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES The primary outcomes were the rate of and time to SARS-CoV-2 clearance and the 14-day and 30-day hospital discharge rate. RESULTS Twelve patients enrolled in grp 1 and 15 patients were in grp 2. The 14 days SARS-CoV-2 viral clearance rate was 80.0% (12/15) for grp 2 patients receiving leflunomide versus 16.7% for grp 1 patients (2/12) (P=0.002). By day 14, the median time to SARS-CoV-2 clearance was 6.0 days (range 1-12; IQR 1-12) for grp 2 patients. In grp 1, two patients converted to viral negative on days 1 and 6 (P=0.002). The 14-day discharge rate was 73.3% (11/15) for the grp 2 versus 8.3% (1/12) for grp 1 (P=0.001). The 30-day discharge rate was 100% (15/15) for the grp 2 versus 66.7% (8/12) for grp 1. No severe adverse events or deaths were reported. CONCLUSION Leflunomide is effective in enhancing SARS-CoV-2 clearance and hospital discharge in refractory COVID-19 patients. The addition of leflunomide to SOC did not increase adverse events versus SOC. These preliminary observations underscore a need for a randomized clinical study of leflunomide in SARS-CoV-2 infection.

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