2 arthritis drugs reduce deaths in very ill COVID patients, study finds

Based on fresh trial data, U.K. officials are promoting use of the arthritis drugs tocilizumab and sarilumab to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. Researchers report that care regimens including one of these medications, when administered within 24 hours of admission to the intensive care unit (ICU), lowered mortality to about 27%.

Based on fresh trial data, U.K. officials are promoting use of the arthritis drugs tocilizumab and sarilumab to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients. Researchers report that care regimens including one of these medications, when administered within 24 hours of admission to the intensive care unit (ICU), lowered mortality to about 27%. That compares with a death rate of 36% among ICU patients having no exposure to the arthritic drugs. With those findings as a benchmark, tocilizumab and sarilumab could potentially avoid one death out of every 12 ICU patients treated with the drugs. In addition to the mortality benefit, investigators noted the drugs shortened both patients' time on ventilators and the length of their hospitalizations. Although the results conflict with prior studies and the new trial has yet to undergo peer review, the data convinced British health authorities to command a change in recommended practice. "Organizations are encouraged to consider prescribing either tocilizumab or sarilumab in the treatment of patients admitted to intensive care with COVID-19 pneumonia," the new guidance advises. U.S. experts are more cautious, although encouraged by the findings. "I think we need to understand why this data looks different from other studies," says Krutika Kuppalli, MD, with the Medical University of South Carolina, "before we start implementing this as widespread policy."