In a recent study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers found critically ill COVID-19 patients who received a single dose of the drug Tocilizumab were 45% less likely to die overall.
In addition, these patients were more likely to be out of the hospital or off a ventilator one month after treatment.
Tocilizumab is originally designed for rheumatoid arthritis.
It has already been used to calm an overreacting immune system in patients receiving advanced immunotherapy treatment for cancer.
The findings suggest a benefit from timely and targeted efforts to calm the “cytokine storm” caused by the immune system’s overreaction to the coronavirus.
The researchers are from the University of Michigan. One author is Emily Somers, Ph.D., Sc.M.
In the study, the team had a thorough look back at data from 154 critically ill patients during the first six weeks of the pandemic’s arrival in Michigan.
During that time, when little was known about what would help COVID-19 patients on ventilators, about half of the studied patients received tocilizumab and half did not.
Most received it within the 24-hour period surrounding their intubation.
The majority of the patients were transferred to U-M from Detroit-area hospitals after diagnosis with COVID-19, and those who received tocilizumab were less likely overall to have been transferred while already on a ventilator.
By the end of the 28-day period, after patients went on a ventilator, 18% of those who received tocilizumab had died, compared with 36% of those who had not.
When adjusted for other health factors, this represents a 45% reduction in mortality.
Of those still in the hospital at the end of the study period, 82% of the tocilizumab patients had come off the ventilator, compared with 53% of those who didn’t receive the drug.
In all, 54% of the tocilizumab patients developed a secondary infection, mostly ventilator-associated pneumonia; 26% of those who didn’t receive tocilizumab developed such infections.
Such “superinfections” usually reduce the chance of survival for COVID-19 patients.
The team says further studies of tocilizumab, which is more targeted than dexamethasone in addressing the hyperinflammatory process, could include combining these agents or comparing them head-to-head.
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