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IntroductionMany immunomodulators have been studied in clinical trials for the treatment of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, data identifying the most effective and safest treatment are lacking. We conducted a systematic review and network meta-analysis to rank immunomodulators in the treatment of COVID-19 according to their efficacy and safety.MethodsPublished and peer-reviewed randomized controlled trials assessing the efficacy of immunomodulators in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 were searched up to June 30, 2021. Direct and network meta-analyses were applied to assess the outcomes. The probability of efficacy and safety was estimated, and the drugs were awarded a numerical ranking.ResultsTwenty-six studies were eligible. Compared with standard of care, dexamethasone and tocilizumab had significantly lower mortality rates with pooled risk ratios (RRs) of 0.91 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.84-0.99) and 0.88 (95% CI 0.82-0.96), respectively. Meanwhile, the most effective corticosteroid, interleukin-6 antagonist, and Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor were hydrocortisone, sarilumab, and ruxolitinib, respectively. However, when superimposed infection was considered, ruxolitinib was the best treatment followed by baricitinib. Moreover, methylprednisolone had the worst combined efficacy and safety among the examined treatments.ConclusionsOverall, immunomodulators were more effective than standard of care. Important differences exist among immunomodulators regarding both efficacy and safety in favor of ruxolitinib and baricitinib. Further well-conducted randomized controlled trials should focus on JAK inhibitors. Methylprednisolone use should be discouraged because of its poor efficacy and high risk of superimposed infection. TRIAL REGISTRATION: PROSPERO registration identifier CRD 42021257421.

Original publication




Journal article


Infectious diseases and therapy

Publication Date



Department of Clinical Tropical Medicine, Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.