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Roche’s Arthritis Drug Tocilizumab Significantly Reduces Deaths in Patients Hospitalized with Severe COVID-19, Finds Study

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 12 Feb 2021
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Image: Roche’s anti-inflammatory treatment Actemra (Photo courtesy of Roche)
Image: Roche’s anti-inflammatory treatment Actemra (Photo courtesy of Roche)
Roche’s (Basel, Switzerland) anti-inflammatory treatment Actemra (tocilizumab) has been found to reduce the risk of death when given to hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19.

The Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) study by researchers at the University of Oxford (Oxford, UK) also showed that tocilizumab shortens the time until patients are successfully discharged from hospital and reduces the need for a mechanical ventilator. The RECOVERY trial has been testing a range of potential treatments for COVID-19 since March 2020. Tocilizumab, an intravenous drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, was added to the trial in April 2020 for patients with COVID-19 who required oxygen and had evidence of inflammation. Recruitment to the tocilizumab arm stopped on 24 January 2021 since, in the view of the trial Steering Committee, sufficient patients had been enrolled to establish whether or not the drug had a meaningful benefit.

A total of 2022 patients were randomly allocated to receive tocilizumab by intravenous infusion and were compared with 2094 patients randomly allocated to usual care alone. 82% of patients were taking a systemic steroid such as dexamethasone. Treatment with tocilizumab significantly reduced deaths: 596 (29%) of the patients in the tocilizumab group died within 28 days compared with 694 (33%) patients in the usual care group, an absolute difference of 4%. This means that for every 25 patients treated with tocilizumab, one additional life would be saved. Tocilizumab also increased the probability of discharge alive within 28 days from 47% to 54%. These benefits were seen in all patient subgroups, including those requiring oxygen via a simple face mask through to those requiring mechanical ventilators in an intensive care unit.

Among patients not on invasive mechanical ventilation when entered into the trial, tocilizumab significantly reduced the chance of progressing to invasive mechanical ventilation or death from 38% to 33%. However, there was no evidence that tocilizumab had any effect on the chance of successful cessation of invasive mechanical ventilation. In June 2020, the RECOVERY trial found that the inexpensive and widely available steroid dexamethasone reduces death for patients with severe COVID-19. This rapidly became part of standard-of-care given to all such patients. The benefits of tocilizumab were clearly seen to be in addition to those of steroids. The data suggest that in COVID-19 patients with hypoxia (requiring oxygen) and significant inflammation, treatment with the combination of a systemic corticosteroid (such as dexamethasone) plus tocilizumab reduces mortality by about one third for patients requiring simple oxygen and nearly one half for those requiring invasive mechanical ventilation.

“Previous trials of tocilizumab had shown mixed results, and it was unclear which patients might benefit from the treatment,” said Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and Joint Chief Investigator for RECOVERY. “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.”

“The results from the RECOVERY trial clearly show the benefits of tocilizumab and dexamethasone in tackling the worst consequences of COVID-19 – improving survival, shortening hospital stay, and reducing the need for mechanical ventilators. Used in combination, the impact is substantial,” said Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, and Joint Chief Investigator.



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