Arthritis drugs could help save lives of Covid patients, research finds

Grant Boone
January 11, 2021

Two more life-saving drugs have been found that can cut deaths by a quarter in patients who are sickest with Covid.

The new advice, which is due to be published on 8 January 2020, follows results released from the Randomised, Embedded, Multi-factorial, Adaptive Platform Trial for Community-Acquired pneumonia (REMAP-CAP), which suggested that tocilizumab and sarilumab, which are both IL-6 receptor antagonists, led to a 24% reduced risk of mortality, when administered to patients within 24 hours of entering intensive care.

The UK National Health Service (NHS) patients admitted to the country's intensive care units (ICUs) will be able to receive tocilizumab and sarilumab, which have also been found to reduce the time COVID-19 patients need to spend ICUs by 10 days.

This is a significant finding which could have immediate implications for the sickest patients with Covid-19, said Professor Anthony Gordon, Chair in Anaesthesia and Critical Care at Imperial College London and a Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at Imperial College Healthcare Trust, involved in the trial.

The results come from the REMAP CAP study, which involves around 800 intensive care patients from six countries including the UK.

The anti-inflammatory medications, given via a drip, save an extra life for every 12 treated, say researchers who have carried out a trial in NHS intensive care units.

Tocilizumab, which is administered intravenously in a one- or two-dose regime, is already in stock in hospitals across the United Kingdom, the Department of Heath and Social Care said, adding that it has worked closely with the manufacturer, Roche, to ensure continued availability.

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"Our analysis indicates that most patients continue to live with at least some of the effects of the virus after leaving the hospital, and highlights a need for post-discharge care", Dr. Bin Cao, an author of the study and vice-director of the Center for Respiratory Diseases at China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing, said in a statement.

"Today's results are yet another landmark development in finding a way out of this pandemic and, when added to the armoury of vaccines and treatments already being rolled out, (the two drugs) will play a significant role in defeating this virus", said Hancock.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: "This is a significant step forward for increasing survival of patients in intensive care with Covid-19".

Hospital mortality was 28%, 22.2% and 35.8% in cohorts receiving tocilizumab, sarilumab and standard care, respectively.

Tocilizumab and sarilumab are immunosuppressive drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The UK government has, to date, provided £1.2m to support the REMAP-CAP trial.

A medical trial, REMAP-CAP, is now underway to test a range of different COVID-19 treatments, including antivirals, drugs, and therapies.

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