The drugs, which will be added to treatment guidelines in the UK, offer hope that at a time of growing concern, the country’s healthcare system could be overwhelmed.
The anti-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 treatment within 24 hours of entering intensive care, a British study to treat the disease found.
The REMAP-CAP clinical trial, conducted by Imperial College and funded by the UK government, found that tocilizumab, which suppresses the immune system and has long been used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, can reduce the relative risk of death by 24% when administered soon after admission to the intensive care unit.
It also reduced the length of time patients spend in intensive care by between seven and 1
Most of the data come from when the drug was given 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 await peer review.
“This is a significant step forward in increasing the survival of patients in intensive care with COVID-19,” said Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom.
“The data show that tocilizumab and possibly sarilumab (another drug in the study) accelerate and improve the chances of recovery in intensive care, which is crucial to relieving the pressure on intensive care and hospitals and saving lives.”
The United Kingdom is struggling with an escalating coronavirus crisis, fueled by a new variant of the coronavirus that is significantly more transmissible. Authorities have imposed a new blockade on the country’s nearly 67 million people amid growing concerns that the health care system could be crushed by the huge number of patients in need of hospital treatment, even before the benefits of a mass vaccination program are felt.
About 52,618 cases were confirmed on Thursday and 3,600 people were hospitalized.
“The introduction of these treatments could significantly reduce the pressure on hospitals in the coming weeks and months,” the health ministry said, adding that under updated guidelines, doctors would be encouraged to use tocilizumab in the treatment of patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units, “potentially saving hundreds of lives”.