This arthritis drug may prove effective against severe Covid cases

This arthritis drug may prove effective against severe Covid cases
Courtesy: Peter Dazeley | The Image Bank via Getty Images

Thousands more patients who are hospitalised due to Covid-19 will receive tocilizumab, normally used to treat arthritis, as a treatment after a latest study showed its effectiveness in preventing deaths.

In a recent RECOVERY clinical trial, funded by the UK government through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the drug was found to have reduced the relative risk of death by 14 per cent and reduced the time spent in hospital by five days, when used for patients on oxygen and in addition to the corticosteroid dexamethasone. The rollout of this treatment is expected to contribute significantly towards reducing pressures on National Health Service (NHS) hospitals over the coming weeks and months.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The excellent news is further proof the UK is at the forefront of the global mission to find safe and effective treatments for this terrible virus.

“We are working quickly and closely with colleagues across the health system and sector to ensure every NHS patient who needs this treatment should be able to access it – reducing further pressures on the NHS and potentially saving thousands of lives.”

Saving lives

Last month, the international clinical trial REMAP-CAP, also funded by the government, found that tocilizumab and sarilumab reduced the risk of death for patients when administered within 24 hours of entering intensive care. The latest findings by Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY (RECOVERY), run by the University of Oxford, show a much larger group of hospitalised patients can also benefit from the drug if it is given to those outside of intensive care with oxygen deficiency and showing signs of worsening – meaning potentially thousands more lives could be saved.

“These results present another important advance in our fight against Covid-19 and are good news for patients and clinicians around the world – it’s a combination of both effective therapeutics and vaccines that will mean an end to this pandemic,” said Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England.

“The data published today mean many more patients in hospital with Covid-19 will have access to a proven treatment, speeding up their recovery and reducing the risk of mortality significantly,” he said.

The UK government said it is working closely with the manufacturer Roche to ensure the drug is available across NHS healthcare settings.

Positive development

“Throughout the pandemic where the NHS leads, the world has followed – from vaccinating the first patients outside of clinical trials to helping get dexamethasone into frontline care, and now to driving forward research on another breakthrough treatment,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director.

“This is another positive development in our continued fight against the virus and alongside the roll-out of the biggest and fastest vaccination programme in our history, with over 10 million people receiving protection so far, we can start to look to the future with hope,” he said.

The latest data marks the second treatment that RECOVERY, dubbed the world’s largest randomised controlled clinical trial, has found to be effective against Covid-19. It follows its discovery of the world-first treatment dexamethasone in June last year, which reduces the risk of death by 20 per cent for patients on oxygen and 35 per cent for ventilated patients.

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