A Nice Story To End On

Image Credit: Roche.

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Here’s a story that should give you a lift headed into the weekend.

A major trial studying 4,000 coronavirus patients in the UK found that a commonly-used drug for rheumatoid arthritis can reduce mortality by 15% and shorten time in the hospital.

When combined with dexamethasone, the chances of dying from Covid-19 in the hospital are cut by between a third and a half, according to the principal investigator.

It is being hailed as one of the most significant medical breakthroughs for treating the virus yet.

Good For Joints, Good For Covid

The drug, called tocilizumab, is manufactured by Swiss pharma powerhouse Roche, and is commonly sold under the name Actemra.

Science Caps On: The drug is injected by IV and works by blocking the receptors in human cells that respond to a messenger molecule called interleukin-6. IL-6 plays a key role in activating biological inflammation. Even better:

  • More than 1.5 million people have taken tocilizumab over the last ten years, meaning the safety profile is well understood.
  • And because the drug is treating the immune system’s response to the infection, not the infection itself, its efficacy likely won’t be impacted by future virus mutations.

Roche told the Financial Times it is working to “accelerate manufacturing capacity” for an increase in global supply. Generic versions are also being developed, and a similar drug, sarilumab, has been successful in limited settings.

UK vs US: Last month, even before the study results were published, the UK government encouraged use of tocilizumab for Covid patients.

The takeaway:

It may take longer for the US to get on board. The FDA has yet to approve the drug for Covid treatments. Last week, the National Institute of Health recommended against usage of tocilizumab for hospitalized, non-ICU patients, outside of clinical trials.