LONDON: A drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis could be a lifesaver for COVID-19 patients in intensive care, according to preliminary results from a new study led by researchers at Imperial College London.
The study found that tocilizumab, which suppresses the immune system and reduces inflammation, may be effective in treating the most seriously ill, in what the British government has called “fantastic news.”
The study’s results have yet to be published and fully peer reviewed, but Prof. Anthony Gordon, chairman in anaesthesia and critical care at Imperial, said: “These early findings show that treatment with this immune-modulating drug is effective for critically ill COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.”
He added: “When we have the results available from all participants, we hope our findings will offer clear guidance to clinicians for improving the outcomes of the sickest COVID-19 patients.”
More than 2,000 COVID-19 patients in 15 countries were given tocilizumab and other immune-modulating drugs as part of the trial.
If tocilizumab is proven to be effective, it is likely to join dexamethasone, which reduces the chance of patients on ventilators from dying by around 30 percent, as an important therapeutic intervention for healthcare workers to fight the virus.
But further research is needed to determine the effect tocilizumab has on overall survival and how long a patient will still need to spend in intensive care.
Some professionals have warned that it is too soon to celebrate. “This most recent evidence for a benefit of tocilizumab comes from preliminary unpublished data and should be treated with caution,” said Derek Hill, professor of medical imaging science at University College London.
“However, if the initial results stand up to full analysis and peer review, then it could well be a valuable addition to the armory of treatments that can help improve outcomes for COVID patients.”