Arthritis drug reduces Covid-19 death risk and hospitalisation: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on February 13, 2021

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A new study has found that arthritis drug tocilizumab is able to reduce the risk of deaths in patients hospitalized due to Covid-19. This may further mitigate the chances of requiring ventilator support.

Tocilizumab is an intravenous drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

The study suggested that in Covid-19 patients with hypoxia (requiring oxygen) and inflammation, treatment with the combination of a systemic corticosteroid (such as dexamethasone) plus tocilizumab reduces mortality by about one third for patients requiring simple oxygen and nearly one half for those requiring invasive mechanical ventilation.

The research has been carried out under the RECOVERY trial that is a national clinical trial in the UK that aims to identify treatments that may be beneficial for Covid-19 people.

“Previous trials of tocilizumab had shown mixed results, and it was unclear which patients might benefit from the treatment,” said Peter Horby, professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and joint chief investigator for RECOVERY.

He added, “We now know that the benefits of tocilizumab extend to all Covid-19 patients with low oxygen levels and significant inflammation.”


For the study, the researchers examined a total of 2,022 patients who were randomly allocated to receive tocilizumab by intravenous infusion and were compared with 2,094 patients in the control group.

Patients who required oxygen and had evidence of inflammation were recruited for the study between April 2020 and 24 January.

The study noted that 82 per cent of patients were already taking a systemic steroid such as dexamethasone. “The double impact of dexamethasone plus tocilizumab is impressive and very welcome,” said Horby.


The study revealed that tocilizumab reduced deaths among hospitalized Covid-19 patients. While 596 (29 per cent) patients in the tocilizumab group died within 28 days, 694 (33 per cent) people succumbed to the infection in the usual care group.

The drug’s use also increased the probability of hospital discharge (from 47 per cent to 54 per cent) within 28 days.

“These benefits were seen in all patient subgroups, including those requiring oxygen via a simple face mask through to those requiring mechanical ventilators in an intensive care unit,” the study noted.

“Among patients not on invasive mechanical ventilation when entered into the trial, tocilizumab significantly reduced the chance of progressing to invasive mechanical ventilation or death from 38 per cent to 33 per cent,” the study further added.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Science Magazine.

Published on February 13, 2021

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