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Arthritis drug tocilizumab cuts COVID-19 deaths in hospital trial

Published on 12/02/21 at 10:07am

The rheumatoid arthritis drug tocilizumab can reduce the risk of death in severe COVID-19 patients and shorten the time spent in hospital, results from a trial in UK hospitals has shown.

The Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial also found the medicine can reduce the need for a mechanical ventilator.

RECOVERY is the second National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)-supported study to demonstrate the effectiveness of tocilizumab as a COVID-19 treatment, after results from the REMAP-CAP study last month showed that tocilizumab and a second similar drug called sarilumab can significantly improve survival and reduce the relative risk of death for patients in intensive care.

As part of the trial, more than 2000 patients were randomly allocated to receive tocilizumab intravenously. Results were compared with 2094 patients randomly allocated to usual care alone, with 82% of randomised patients also taking a systemic steroid such as dexamethasone.

The study showed that when given alongside dexamethasone, tocilizumab reduced the risk of death by 4% – meaning that for every 25 patients treated with the drug, one additional life would be saved.

Additionally, the drug was found to cut the relative risk of death by 14% and shorten the time spent in hospital by five days when used for patients on oxygen and in addition to dexamethasone.

It also significantly reduced the chance of progressing to invasive mechanical ventilation or death from 38% to 33%.

Professor Nick Lemoine, Medical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, said: “These latest results for tocilizumab are significant and will undoubtedly help save lives - not just in the UK but around the world. They show that tocilizumab - a widely available arthritis treatment - can save lives, shorten hospital stays and decrease the likelihood of requiring mechanical ventilation for hospitalised COVID-19 patients.

“Through our programme of urgent public research – working closely with the RECOVERY team and NHS hospital staff right across the UK – the NIHR has helped over 35,000 patients take part in this flagship treatment study. In doing so, RECOVERY has been able to provide data which has now given the world two life-saving treatments against this dreadful disease.”

Darcy Jimenez

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