A rheumatoid arthritis drug helped the sickest Covid-19 patients improve in a trial of 303 people, scientists said on Thursday, boosting hopes that it may be possible to effectively tackle the virus with existing treatments.
Patients given Roche’s drug Actemra (or tocilizumab), were more likely to be taken off breathing machines and to survive hospital admission, said Imperial College London, which led the study.
The anti-inflammation drug reached a “key efficacy endpoint” for the most-ill Covid-19 patients, according to unpublished data from the trial, which was conducted with the UK’s Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre and Utrecht University.
Data showed a 99.75 percent probability that treatment with Actemra yielded a better outcome for patients, compared to when no immune-supporting therapy was given.
“This is an absolutely amazing result,” said Dr Lennie Derde, consultant in intensive care medicine at the University Medical Center in Utrecht. “To have a second effective therapy for critically ill patients within months of the start of the pandemic is unprecedented.”
In September, another Imperial College London-led study found that the steroid hydrocortisone could improve the chances of recovery for critically ill Covid-19 patients.
Upon the publication of that research in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization updated its guidelines on the use of steroids to treat Covid-19 patients.
Details about Actemra’s ability to prolong patients’ lives and the length of time they need to remain on ventilators are to be released soon, said Professor Anthony Gordon, chair in Anaesthesia and Critical Care at Imperial College London.
“These early findings show that treatment with this immune modulating drug is effective for critically ill Covid-19 patients in intensive care units,” he said.
Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche has been testing Actemra’s efficacy in fighting Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. In September, a Phase 3 trial showed that the drug reduced the likelihood of Covid-19 patients with pneumonia being placed on ventilators, although a separate Phase 3 pneumonia trial in July showed that Actemra did not reach the goal of reducing patient mortality.
The latest findings about Actemra come from a study which began looking at potential treatments in March, and which has since involved over 2,000 patients in 15 countries at more than 260 hospitals worldwide.
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