Arthritis medications may increase chances of survival for critically ill COVID-19 patients

LONDON — Although the COVID-19 vaccine may keep millions of people from getting sick, many around the world are still dealing with life-threatening cases of the virus. A new study finds giving critically ill COVID-19 patients arthritis medication could increase their chances of recovery and survival. Researchers from Imperial College London say the arthritis drug tocilizumab could reduce the amount of time coronavirus patients spend recovering in intensive care (ICU) by a week.

Of the more than 21 million confirmed cases of COVID in the United States, the virus has claimed over 360,000 lives since March 2020.

The London team’s medical trial finds tocilizumab and another arthritis drug, sarilumab, reduces mortality risk by 8.5 percent.

“This is a significant finding which could have immediate implications for the sickest patients with COVID-19,” study author Professor Anthony Gordo says in a university release.

“We found that among critically ill adult patients – those receiving breathing support in intensive care – treatment with these drugs can improve their chances of survival and recovery. At a time when hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are soaring in the UK, it’s crucial we continue to identify effective treatments which can help to turn the tide against this disease.”

A medical trial, REMAP-CAP, is currently underway to test a range of different COVID-19 treatments, including antivirals, drugs, and therapies. As part of the trial, COVID-19 patients in intensive care were given several immunosuppressive drugs, called IL-6 receptor antagonists.

The results reveal only 27.3 percent of patients taking one of the two arthritis drugs died compared to 35.8 percent of patients in the control group who didn’t. Out of the 353 critically ill COVID-19 patients who received tocilizumab, 28 percent died of their illness. Just 22.2 percent of the 48 patients taking sarilumab died of COVID-19.

“A crucial difference may be that in our study, critically ill patients were enrolled within 24 hours of starting organ support,” Prof. Gordon explained. “This highlights a potential early window for treatment where the sickest patients may gain the most benefit from immune modulation treatment.”

Patients who took arthritis drugs were also discharged from the intensive care unit about a week earlier on average than those who didn’t. Since March 2020, REMAP-CAP has recruited 3,900 patients in 15 countries at more than 290 hospitals worldwide.

The findings appear in the journal medRxiv.

SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.