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Arthritis drug tocilizumab effective in reducing COVID-19 deaths: UK study

In the RECOVERY clinical trial, the drug was found to have reduced the relative risk of death by 14 per cent and reduced the time spent in hospital by five days

The UK government said that thousands of more patients who are hospitalised due to COVID-19 will receive arthritis drug tocilizumab as a treatment after the latest study showed its effectiveness in preventing deaths.

In the Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) clinical trial, funded by the government through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the drug was found to have reduced the relative risk of death by 14 per cent and reduced the time spent in hospital by five days, when used for patients on oxygen and in addition to the corticosteroid dexamethasone.

The rollout of this treatment is expected to contribute significantly towards reducing pressures on the National Health Service (NHS) hospitals over the coming weeks and months.

“Today’s excellent news is further proof the UK is at the forefront of the global mission to find safe and effective treatments for this terrible virus,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“We are working quickly and closely with colleagues across the health system and sector to ensure every NHS patient who needs this treatment should be able to access it – reducing further pressures on the NHS and potentially saving thousands of lives,” he said.

Last month, the international clinical trial REMAP-CAP, also funded by the government, found that tocilizumab and sarilumab reduced the risk of death for patients when administered within 24 hours of entering intensive care.

The latest findings by RECOVERY, run by the University of Oxford, show a much larger group of hospitalised patients can also benefit from the drug if it is given to those outside of intensive care with oxygen deficiency and showing signs of worsening – meaning potentially thousands more lives could be saved.

“These results present another important advance in our fight against COVID-19 and are good news for patients and clinicians around the world – it’s a combination of both effective therapeutics and vaccines that will mean an end to this pandemic,” said Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England.

“The data published mean many more patients in hospital with COVID-19 will have access to a proven treatment, speeding up their recovery and reducing the risk of mortality significantly,” he said.

The UK government said it is working closely with the manufacturer Roche to ensure the drug is available across NHS healthcare settings.

“Throughout the pandemic where the NHS leads, the world has followed – from vaccinating the first patients outside of clinical trials to helping get dexamethasone into frontline care, and now to driving forward research on another breakthrough treatment,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director.

“This is another positive development in our continued fight against the virus and alongside the roll-out of the biggest and fastest vaccination programme in our history, with over 10 million people receiving protection so far, we can start to look to the future with hope,” he said.

The latest data marks the second treatment that RECOVERY, dubbed the world’s largest randomised controlled clinical trial, has found to be effective against COVID-19.

It follows its discovery of the world-first treatment dexamethasone in June last year, which reduces the risk of death by 20 per cent for patients on oxygen and 35 per cent for ventilated patients.

The trial has now found the benefits of using tocilizumab with dexamethasone are in addition to the benefits shown by dexamethasone alone. The updated guidance will be sent to NHS trusts and clinicians on Monday, recommending they use this drug for hospitalised patients who may benefit from the treatment. 


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