Arthritis drug no better than standard care for severe COVID-19
Treating severe COVID-19 patients with the arthritis drug Tocilizumab along with standard care is no better than standard care alone in improving clinical outcomes in 15 days, says the results of a trial. The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal The BMJ, noted an increased number of deaths among those who received the drug, contradicting earlier observational studies suggesting the benefit of the drug.
Contradictory effects of the drug need to be assessed: Scientists
The scientists, including those from Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo in Brazil, have said that these contradictory effects need to be assessed. They explained that the drug blocks a specific part of the immune system, interleukin 6, that can go into overdrive in some COVID-19 patients. Tocilizumab was thought to help lessen the body's inflammatory response to the virus and avert dire consequences.
Scientists observed 129 patients to reach the conclusion
The scientists' findings are based on 129 COVID-19 patients (average age of 57) at nine hospitals in Brazil between May 8 and July 17, 2020. They were randomly divided into two groups; 65 received Tocilizumab plus standard care, and 64 received standard care alone. The patients received supplemental oxygen and had abnormal levels of at least two molecules linked to inflammation in their blood.
Eleven deaths were reported in Tocilizumab group
Other factors, such as underlying conditions and use of other medication, were taken into account and all patients were monitored for 15 days, the study noted. By day 15, the scientists said, 11 patients had died and 7 were on mechanical ventilation in the tocilizumab group compared with two deaths and 11 on mechanical ventilation in the standard care group.
Small sample size may have affected the study: Researchers
Due to the increased number of deaths in the Tocilizumab group, the trial was stopped early. In both groups, deaths were attributed to COVID-19 related failures. The researchers said the sample size of the trial was small, which may have affected the study. However, the results were consistent after adjusting for levels of respiratory support needed by patients at the start of the trial.