Two arthritis drugs could help save coronavirus patients who are severely ill - the science explained

Research has discovered that two drugs usually used to treat rheumatoid arthritis could help save the lives of those with severe cases of coronavirus.

The two drugs, called tocilizumab and sarilumab, are thought to have the power to save the lives of one in 12 coronavirus patients requiring intensive care, with the former to be used by the NHS for treatment from 8 January.

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Analysis of  data from around 800 patients determined that tocilizumab could potentially cut the relative risk of death by 24 per cent, while sarilumab appears to do the same while also cutting the amount of time spent in intensive care.

The results, which have not yet been peer reviewed, come from a clinical trial named Remap-Cap which involved over 3,900 coronavirus patients from 15 countries around the world.

How the drugs help

Both tocilizumab and sarilumab are drugs which lessen the impact of immune system overreaction, with severe coronavirus linked to dangerous levels of inflammation in patients.

In the trial, it was discovered that hospital mortality was 35.8 per cent for patients given standard care, falling to 28 per cent for those given tocilizumab, and 22.2 per cent for those given sarilumab.

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Combined, the results for both drugs gave a hospital mortality rate of 27.3 per cent, representing an 8.5 percentage drop in absolute risk of death, or a 24 per cent relative reduction when compared to the group given standard care.

Those given either of the two drugs also left intensive care around seven to 10 days quicker than those given standard care.

Professor Anthony Gordon, the UK’s chief investigator on the trial behind the findings, said: “Treat 12 patients and you save one life. [That’s] a big effect."

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said: “This is a significant step forward for increasing survival of patients in intensive care with Covid-19. The data shows that tocilizumab, and likely sarilumab, speed up and improve the odds of recovery in intensive care, which is crucial for helping to relieve pressure on intensive care and hospitals and saving lives."

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The Department of Health and Social Care has said that hospitals have already been given supplies of tocilizumab.

“Updated guidance will be issued tomorrow by the government and the NHS to trusts across the UK, encouraging them to use tocilizumab in their treatment of Covid-19 patients who are admitted to intensive care units, effective immediately,” it told The Guardian.