JAN 18, 2021 7:00 AM PST

Arthritis Drug Approved for Critically Ill COVID Patients

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Critically ill COVID patients in the U.K. may receive an arthritis drug after a study showed that treatment lowered mortality rates and accelerated recovery times in intensive care. 

The drug tocilizumab (Actemra) is an approved biologic medication for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The drug works by blocking the inflammatory protein interleukin-6, or IL-6, to calm arthritis-induced joint swelling, pain, and other symptoms caused by inflammation. 

Researchers at the Imperial College London found that tocilizumab was also able to help COVID patients, reducing the mortality rate in critically ill individuals by around 10 percent and, on average, shortening their hospital stays by a week.

With the pandemic raging on in the new year, the list of existing treatments that have been tested to help COVID patients continues to grow. Unfortunately, except for the steroid treatment dexamethasone, few have been successful. 

Once the SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the body, infection typically manifests as influenza-like symptoms: cough, fever, and headaches. A subset of infected individuals spirals quickly into a state of potentially lethal hypoxemic respiratory failure—a condition caused by a massive surge of inflammatory factors in the body. These patients have markedly abnormal levels of IL-6, ferritin, and C-reactive proteins, among other molecules associated with the “cytokine storm.”

Tocilizumab’s life-saving effects are likely attributed to the drug’s ability to quench inflammation, specifically targeting IL-6. High circulating concentrations of this pro-inflammatory protein are associated with uncontrolled viral replication, a rapid decline in respiratory health, resulting in the need for mechanical ventilation, and even death. This led researchers to hypothesize that blocking IL-6 can help patients by halting the inflammatory cascade. 

The report from the REMAP-CAP trial indicates that the scientists may be on the right track. The ongoing clinical trial has enrolled nearly 4,000 patients in the U.K., with 350 of them receiving tocilizumab. Other pharmaceuticals targeting inflammation are also in the line-up for testing. 

 

Sources: The New England Journal of Medicine, Bloomberg.


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
DEC 28, 2020
Immunology
Inhaling a Puff of Llama Antibodies to Relieve COVID
DEC 28, 2020
Inhaling a Puff of Llama Antibodies to Relieve COVID
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have identified new antibody-based weapons in the fight against COVID-19 ...
JAN 17, 2021
Immunology
A Single Dose Nanoparticle Vaccine for COVID-19
JAN 17, 2021
A Single Dose Nanoparticle Vaccine for COVID-19
In the race for finding the right vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic, a new vaccine candidate emerged. Researchers at Sta ...
FEB 25, 2021
Immunology
Asthma Inhalers Slash Risk of COVID Hospitalization by 90 Percent
FEB 25, 2021
Asthma Inhalers Slash Risk of COVID Hospitalization by 90 Percent
For mild cases of COVID, doctors recommend the usual regimen for getting through a cold or flu: Staying hydrated and res ...
APR 13, 2021
Immunology
The "Unexpected" Reason Why COVID Antivirals Don't Work
APR 13, 2021
The "Unexpected" Reason Why COVID Antivirals Don't Work
Purdue University researchers have made a breakthrough finding that could explain why the disease is so hard to manage t ...
APR 15, 2021
Immunology
COVID Vaccines Protect Breastfeeding Babies Too
APR 15, 2021
COVID Vaccines Protect Breastfeeding Babies Too
Good news for families of newborns: A new study shows that breastfeeding mothers who receive a COVID vaccine share prote ...
APR 16, 2021
Microbiology
A New Kind of COVID-19 Vaccine
APR 16, 2021
A New Kind of COVID-19 Vaccine
The current COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Modern are based on messenger RNA, which cells use to make proteins ...
Loading Comments...