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Italian doctors in at least two hospitals treating COVID-19 cases have started using a drug normally prescribed for people with chronic inflammatory auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr. Paolo Ascierto, director of the immunology clinic at the Pascale Institute in Naples, told Italian state TV on Saturday that of the first six ICU patients treated with the drug, three showed significant improvement of their lung inflammation judging by CT scans. One of the six died shortly after the drug was administered.

Ascierto stressed that the drug fights the lung inflammation from pneumonia in coronavirus patients but doesn’t act on the virus itself. Italy’s government pharmaceutical regulator, AIFA, is allowing the drug to be used for compassionate purposes, since it is only officially approved in the country for use in auto-immune diseases.

At Spallanzani Hospital in Rome, which is treating COVID-19 infections in that city, and neighboring towns, Dr. Francesco Vaia said on Sunday said six patients who are seriously ill with the coronavirus are also being treated there with the drug.

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