RA drug approved for use in coronavirus cytokine storm

China has approved the use of tocilizumab (Actemra) for people with coronavirus on the basis of its effects against a cytokine storm.

The anti-inflammatory bDMARD is already approved in the US for RA and the treatment of severe or life-threatening cytokine release syndrome (CRS) such as in patients receiving CAR T-cell therapy, and now clinicians in China have started using it for patients with severe complications of COVID-19.

In its latest protocols for diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19, China’s  National Health Commission has approved tocilizumab to be used to treat coronavirus patients with high IL-6 levels extensive lesions in both lungs or severe symptoms.

Previous guidelines advised that increasing levels of IL6 were a marker for poor prognosis in COVID19 infection.

According to China’s state media, Zhou Qi, deputy secretary-general and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told a press conference that tocilizumab had been found to be effective in a pilot clinical trial, in 20 severe COVID-19 cases.

The body temperatures of all the patients dropped within one day. Nineteen of the patients were discharged from the hospital within two weeks, and one got better, Zhou was quoted as saying in the People’s Daily.

Currently, the drug is under clinical trials in 14 hospitals in Wuhan, Zhou said.

As of March 5, a total of 272 severe patients had been treated with tocilizumab.

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