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Covid-19 cure

Arthritis drug shows 'significant promise’ in severe Covid-19 cases

A laboratory technician stores samples at a Covid-19 screening-drive in Montpellier, France.
A laboratory technician stores samples at a Covid-19 screening-drive in Montpellier, France. © AFP/Pascal Guyot

The arthritis drug tocilizumab has shown early promise in preventing extreme inflammation in Covid-19 patients, according to a French clinical study carried out by the Paris public hospitals group, AP-HP.

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"The study has shown comprehensively that fewer patients on oxygen with breathing difficulties needed to be transferred to intensive care (when treated with tocilizumab)," Professor Jacques Eric Gottenberg, rheumatology department head at the CHU Strasbourg hospital, told RFI in an interview on Tuesday.

The study, carried out by Paris public hospitals (AP-HP), looked at 129 people hospitalised with moderate or severe viral pneumonia, which occurs in 5-10 percent of Covid-19 patients.

The treatment, which suppresses the body's natural immune response, was found to reduce "significantly" the number of deaths or life support interventions compared with a control group of patients.

Half received two injections of tocilizumab as well as standard treatment with antibiotics, while the control group received only standard treatment.

While the results are yet to be published, those involved in the research said it showed clear "clinical benefit" of tocilizumab treatment.

AP-HP stressed however that further research was needed on the effectiveness of the drug and the potential for side effects.

"If these results are confirmed, the advantage of this drug is that it is already available in all hospital pharmacies and can be used very quickly. It’s one or two injections for each patient," adds Gottenberg.

Tocilizumab currently costs around 800 euros per injection. It is a lab-synthesised antibody, sold under the brand names Actemra and RoAcemtra, commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Several existing drugs, including anti-viral medicines, are currently being trialled worldwide for Covid-19 treatment.

"We're all overwhelmed with conflicting information, and the absolute rule is how the drug is evaluated.

You need a control group to demonstrate the effectiveness of a drug and trust the experts who judge the quality of the scientific work. There are standards to be met," says Gottenberg.

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