New treatment reduces mortality in Covid patients, study finds

Intensive care unit

The data, from around 800 severely ill COVID-19 patients involved in an global study known as the REMAP-CAP trial showed that the two drugs reduced mortality rates from 35.8% in a control group to 27.3% among patients receiving either tocilizumab or sarilumab.

The drugs are typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and their rollout to COVID-19 patients could help to reduce pressures on hospitals over the coming weeks and months.

In the trial, 353 patients received tocilizumab, 48 had sarilumab and 402 were in a control group.

The UK government is working closely with Roche, which manufactures tocilizumab, to ensure treatments continue to be available to UK patients.

Although both arthritis drugs are costly, researchers compared the benefits and risks, noting that if you treat 12 patients and save one life, it's worth the expense.

As well as saving more lives, the treatments speed up patients' recovery and reduce the length of time that critically-ill patients need to spend in intensive care by about a week. The team also found those given tocilizumab or sarilumab recovered more quickly, leaving intensive care about seven to 10 days earlier than those who had standard care.

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.

"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.

A US study of the arthritis drug Kevzara, which is similar to tocilizumab, was stopped after it was shown to be no better than a placebo in treating critically ill COVID-19 patients. The UK government has, to date, provided £1.2 million to support the REMAP-CAP trial. The majority of patients were also treated with corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone, and were receiving respiratory support.

The study revealed that patients with more severe illness commonly had reduced lung function, with 56 per cent (48/86) of those at severity scale 5-6 (who required ventilation) experiencing diffusion impairment - reduced flow of oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream.

This is a significant step forward for increasing survival of patients in intensive care with COVID-19.

Scientists made these conclusions during the observation of patients who were discharged from the Jin Yin-Tan Hospital (Wuhan, China) between January 7, 2020 and May 29, 2020. The authors say this raises concerns about the possibility of Covid-19 re-infection.