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New ‘life-saving’ COVID treatment can reduce risk of death by 24%

Written by on 7 January 2021

Drugs typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are now set to be given to COVID patients in intensive care with the hope they could save hundreds of lives.

Results from a government-funded clinical trial, published on Thursday, showed using the drugs reduced the relative risk of death by 24%, when administered to patients within 24 hours of entering intensive care.

It was revealed that tocilizumab and sarilumab can also reduce the time spent in hospital by up to 10 days for COVID patients.

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Most of the data came from when the drugs were used in addition to a corticosteroid, such as dexamethasone, which has previously been found to be an effective treatment for severely-ill coronavirus patients.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed “yet another landmark development” in the fight against COVID-19, with it hoped the roll-out of the new treatments will help reduce the current severe pressures on hospitals.

The government and the NHS will issue new guidance on Friday across the UK to encourage hospitals to immediately use tocilizumab in their treatment of COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units.

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Supplies of the drug, which along with sarilumab is typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, are already available in UK hospitals.

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The Department of Health and Social Care said they will work closely with drug maker Roche, which manufactures tocilizumab.

Mr Hancock added: “The UK has proven time and time again it is at the very forefront of identifying and providing the most promising, innovative treatments for its patients.

'This treatment gives us some hope' - The nurse who is first to receive new 'antibody cocktail'

‘This treatment gives us some hope’ – The nurse who is first to receive new ‘antibody cocktail’

“Today’s results are yet another landmark development in finding a way out of this pandemic and, when added to the armoury of vaccines and treatments already being rolled out, will play a significant role in defeating this virus.

“We have worked quickly to ensure this treatment is available to NHS patients without delay, meaning hundreds of lives will be saved.

“I am hugely proud of the significant role our NHS and its patients have played in this international trial.”

Repurposed drugs will have double benefit for the NHS

Analysis by Thomas Moore, Science Correspondent

Once again repurposed drugs are proving to be life savers for patients critically ill with COVID19.

Both tocilizumab and sarilumab are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory condition that affects the joints.

They dampen down the immune system – and that’s also why they work in patients with COVID.

The infection can trigger inflammation as the body tries to fight off the virus.

But sometimes the immune system goes into overdrive and starts attacking the body instead of the virus.

These drugs stop that happening.

They have a double benefit for hospitals.

Not only are patients more likely to survive. But they also recover a week earlier, which will free up critical care beds sooner.

The same beneficial effect of an immune regulating drug was shown by another NHS trial last summer.

The cheap steroid dexamethasone was shown to reduce deaths by a third in the sickest patients.

This latest breakthrough will be some rare good news for hospitals as they struggle with the surge of cases caused by the new variant of the virus.