Amgen to test Otezla as possible COVID-19 coronavirus treatment

Biotech giant Amgen, known in the psoriasis world for its longtime blockbuster Enbrel (etanercept), a biologic used in the treatment of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, has announced that the company “plans to study psoriasis drug Otezla as a potential treatment for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.” In November 2019, Amgen acquired Otezla (apremilast), a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor taken in pill form to combat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

With the world in desperate need of ways to treat or prevent COVID-19, and a huge market opportunity, the pharmaceutical and biotech industries are looking to develop new treatments, while at the same time investigating which existing, FDA-approved treatments for other illnesses might also combat coronavirus. If an existing treatment is shown to help, its production can be ramped-up quickly to meet what would be strong worldwide demand.

One theory of coronavirus is that its lethality is sometimes tied to a “cytokine storm” – an overproduction of immune cells and the cytokines that activate them, flooding into the lungs. For that reason, treatments that inhibit parts of the immune system, including Otezla and other psoriasis treatments, are among those considered worth investigating with respect to coronavirus.

“Amgen expects to begin clinical trials of the drug for COVID-19 in the coming weeks.”

[Last updated 5-1-2020]