An arthritis drug could save 1 in 25 Covid patients - and reduce need for ventilators

By Iain Leggat
Friday, 12th February 2021, 12:38 pm
Updated Friday, 12th February 2021, 12:38 pm
An arthritis drug could save 1 in 25 Covid patients - and reduce need for ventilators (Photo: Shutterstock)
An arthritis drug could save 1 in 25 Covid patients - and reduce need for ventilators (Photo: Shutterstock)

A drug used for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis could help save one in 25 Covid-19 patients, helping reduce the need for mechanical ventilators, a new study has found.

Scientists found the medicine, known as tocilizumab, significantly reduced the risk of death for intensive care unit patients, as well as reducing time spent in hospital by up to ten days.

Recommended for Covid treatment

The medicine was made available for use by the NHS to treat coronavirus patients last month, and on Monday (15 February) updated guidance will be sent to NHS trusts and clinicians, recommending that they use the drug for patients admitted to hospital.

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    Researchers, during the Recovery trial, found that the medicine, if administered alongside a steroid known as dexamethasone, reduced the absolute risk of mortality by four percentage points.

    The drug also reduces the relative risk of death of Covid-19 patients by 14 per cent and cuts time spent in hospital by five days when used for patients on oxygen and in addition to the dexamethasone.

    Treatment with tocilizumab is thought to cost around £500.

    Improved mortality rate

    More than 4,000 patients were involved in the Recovery trial, with 2,022 patients randomly allocated to receive the medicine, while the rest received standard treatment.

    A total of 82 per cent of patients were taking a steroid, such as dexamethasone, as part of the standard care.

    The researchers found that 596 (29 per cent) of the patients in the tocilizumab group died within 28 days, compared with 694 (33 per cent) patients in the usual care group.

    Professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Martin Landray, who was the joint chief investigator in the trail said: “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. This is good news for patients and good news for the health services that care for them in the UK and around the world.”

    Deaths cut by third

    Results from the Recovery trial also suggested that for Covid-19 patients who have significant inflammation and require oxygen, a combination of tocilizumab and a steroid such as dexamethasone cuts deaths by about a third of patients requiring simple oxygen, and nearly half for those requiring a medical ventilator.

    Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “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.

    “The data published today 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.”