Feb 11, 2021 - Health

Study: Arthritis drug reduces COVID mortality for severely ill


Photo: Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

A drug used to treat arthritis lowers the chances of severely ill patients dying from COVID-19, shortens time in hospital and reduces the need for invasive mechanical ventilation, a U.K. study out Thursday shows.

Why it matters: The data from the trial suggests there are now several effective coronavirus treatment options available to health care providers.

  • When used with the steroid dexamethasone, the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab could reduce mortality by one-third for patients on oxygen and nearly half for those requiring a ventilator.
  • Tocilizumab is administered by intravenous infusion and is normally used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

The big picture: Currently, there are only a few treatment options for those with severe COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Gilead's antiviral drug remdesivir and two monoclonal antibody treatments.

  • In June, the series of studies led by the University of Oxford found that the inexpensive and widely available dexamethasone reduced death for patients with severe COVID-19. It soon became part of standard care around the world.
  • 82% of patients in the study taking tocilizumab were also on the steroid dexamethasone.

By the numbers: 2,022 patients were randomly selected to receive tocilizumab, compared to 2,094 patients randomly selected to receive only standard care.

  • The drug increased the probability of discharge within 28 days from 47% to 54%, according to the researchers.
  • The drug also led to fewer patients being put on a ventilator machine and resulted in patients being discharged from hospital more quickly.

What they're saying: "Previous trials of tocilizumab had shown mixed results, and it was unclear which patients might benefit from the treatment," Peter Horby, professor at the University of Oxford and joint chief investigator for RECOVERY, said in a statement.

  • "We now know that the benefits of tocilizumab extend to all COVID patients with low oxygen levels and significant inflammation. The double impact of dexamethasone plus tocilizumab is impressive and very welcome."

What's next: The results from the Oxford study have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Go deeper