Drug, which will be added to UK treatment guidelines, offers hope at a time of growing concern country’s health system could be overwhelmed.
An arthritis drug has been found to reduce the risk of death for people with the most severe cases of COVID-19 by a quarter, if they are given the treatment within 24 hours of entering intensive care, a British study of treatments for the disease has found.
The REMAP-CAP clinical trial, led by Imperial College and funded by the UK government, found tocilizumab, which suppresses the immune system and has long been used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, could reduce the relative risk of death by 24 percent when given soon after admission to the ICU.
It also reduced the length of time patients spent in intensive care by between seven and 10 days the health ministry said in a statement.
Most of the data came from when the drug was administered in addition to a corticosteroid, such as dexamethasone, which has already been shown to improve patients’ chances of recovering from severe cases of COVID-19. The findings are awaiting peer review.
“This is a significant step forward for increasing survival of patients in intensive care with COVID-19,” the UK’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam said in a statement.
“The data shows that tocilizumab, and likely sarilumab (another drug in the study), speed up and improve the odds of recovery in intensive care, which is crucial for helping to relieve pressure on intensive care and hospitals and saving lives.”
The United Kingdom is battling an escalating coronavirus crisis fuelled by a new variant of the coronavirus that is significantly more transmissible. The authorities have imposed a new lockdown on the country of nearly 67 million people amid rising concern that the health system could be overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients needing hospital treatment even before the benefits of a mass vaccination programme are felt.
Some 52,618 cases were confirmed on Thursday and 3,600 people admitted to hospital.
“The roll out of these treatments could contribute significantly towards reducing pressures on hospitals over the coming weeks and months,” the health ministry said, adding that under updated guidance doctors would be encouraged to use tocilizumab in their treatment of COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units “potentially saving hundreds of lives”.