This arthritis drug may help treat severe COVID-19

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A recent study from Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital found that the drug tocilizumab, which is used in the treatment of arthritis, can greatly shorten the time on ventilation and shorten hospital stays for patients with severe COVID-19.

The findings are published in The Journal of Internal Medicine. One author is Piotr Nowak.

The study began in March 2020 during an early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and included 87 patients with severe COVID-19 in intensive care.

A total of 29 of the patients received tocilizumab, a drug approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis that blocks the so-called IL-6 receptor to prevent viral hyper-inflammation (cytokine storm).

Hyper-inflammation triggered by the new coronavirus is central to the pathological process and causes high levels of the cytokine IL-6, which are linked to a more severe COVID-19 disease.

The differences between the treatment and control groups were strong.

The team found patients who received tocilizumab were hospitalized for a much shorter length of time, including time spent on a ventilator, than those who received the standard treatment.

The time spent on ventilation was reduced by ten days, the time spent in intensive care by eight days, and the total hospital stay by ten days.

The treatment was not linked to serious adverse events.

The researchers say that the drug can help severely ill COVID-19 patients by affecting inflammation in the body.

The results now need to be corroborated by a larger study that randomly assigns patients to either tocilizumab or other treatment.

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