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Roche's rheumatoid arthritis drug Actemra shows no benefit in COVID-19 pneumonia

Published on 18/06/20 at 11:08am

Hope is waning around the efficacy of Roche’s Actemra (tocilizumab) following the release of results from an Italian study focusing on the use of the drug in patients with early-stage COVID-19 pneumonia.  

The anti-inflammation therapy, traditionally used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, failed to show clinical benefit fir patients in reducing severe respiratory symptoms, visits to intensive care, or mortality compared to standard of care.

The study only managed to enrol 126 participants across 24 medical centres in Italy – less than half of the intended total number – and was stopped prematurely after an interim analysis ruled that continuing the trial would not reveal any further clinical benefit in the drug. Full results of the study are due to be presented shortly.

However, far from giving up on the drug’s potential benefit in treating COVID-19, Roche is pushing ahead with a study to evaluate the drug in severe pneumonia in patients with the novel coronavirus.

The investigators of the failed study are optimistic that Actemra may still show benefit in some specific patients evaluated in the trial, noting: “Although not effective in all patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, it is possible that selected subgroups of patients may have a better response to the drug.”

Matt Fellows

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