New coronavirus drug: What is life-saving drug Tocilizumab?

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A drug usually used to treat arthritis is being successfully used to treat some of the most unwell patients in hospital with coronavirus. Studies have also shown that the drug, Tocilizumab, has been effective in treating critically ill patients and saving lives.

The drug has been found to reduce the risk of death in patients in hospital, which is welcome news considering the UK’s extremely high death rate.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are working quickly and closely with colleagues across the health system and sector to ensure every NHS patient who needs this treatment should be able to access it – reducing further pressures on the NHS and potentially saving thousands of lives.”

The drug will be available for patients in NHS hospitals from next week, and will be used on severely ill patients.

What is Tocilizumab?

Tocilizumab is an intravenous drug usually used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers at Recovery found that the drug has significantly reduced deaths from coronavirus, with every 25 patients treated with the drug, one additional life could be saved.

More than 4,000 patients were involved in the trial, which found 596 (29 percent) of the patients in the Tocilizumab group died within 28 days, compared with 694 (33 percent) patients in the usual care group.

Tocilizumab also significantly reduced the chance of progressing to invasive mechanical ventilation or death from 38 percent to 33 percent among those who were not on invasive ventilation when they entered into the trial.

Studies also found it could reduce the time spent in hospital by up to 10 days.

The drug reduced inflammation, which is common and can be very dangerous in coronavirus patients as it can cause damage to the lungs and other organs.

The drug is already widely available in the UK, however it is expensive – coming in at £500 per dose.

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But, patients will only need one dose of the drug.

The drug has now been recommended for use by the NHS for all patients who require oxygen from as early as next week.

Tocilizumab will likely be used alongside the steroid Dexamethasone, which is already approved for use in coronavirus patients.

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and joint chief investigator for Recovery, said: “Previous trials of Tocilizumab had shown mixed results, and it was unclear which patients might benefit from the treatment.

“We now know that the benefits of Tocilizumab extend to all Covid patients with low oxygen levels and significant inflammation.

“The double impact of dexamethasone plus Tocilizumab is impressive and very welcome.”

Dr Charlotte Summers, an intensive care medic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, said: “These findings are a tremendous step forwards.

“This therapy looks like it keeps people out of the intensive care unit so they never need to see people like me which can only be a good thing.”

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