Roche’s Actemra May Curb Deaths in Critical Covid Patients
A nurse wearing a powered air-purifying respirator checks on a patients vital signs inside the Covid-19 ICU at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, U.S. (Photographer: Nathan Howard/Bloomberg)

Roche’s Actemra May Curb Deaths in Critical Covid Patients

Roche Holding AG’s Actemra may help critically ill patients survive Covid-19, according to researchers who used a novel approach to show those who quickly got the anti-inflammatory medication were 30% less likely to die.

The observational study should trigger further investigation of the drug, which is already used for other conditions to calm an overactive immune system, the researchers said in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. It has been widely hoped that the treatment would help people having an excessive response to a coronavirus infection.

According to the study, 28% of patients given Actemra within 48 hours of being admitted to intensive care died within a month, compared with 37% of those who didn’t receive it.

The publication adds to conflicting findings about the medicine. Scientifically rigorous trials released this summer and fall found Actemra helped some patients while not benefiting others. The new study combed through the medical records of 3,924 patients treated across the U.S., comparing the results of the 433 who received Actemra with those who didn’t get it.

The data should help doctors determine how to best treat their patients while additional studies are underway, the researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said. Roche’s Genentech Inc. unit, which sells the medicine, said it will keep studying the drug for coronavirus patients.

“Genentech remains committed to continuing the Actemra clinical trial program in Covid-19 to further explore Actemra in other treatment settings, including in combination with an antiviral,” the company said in a statement.

An editorial accompanying the study said it and other research published on Tuesday in the journal suggest a potential role in treating Covid-19 for Actemra, also known as tocilizumab, but don’t show clear proof of safety and effectiveness. Longer-term follow-up could find the drug helps people recover more fully, or triggers unwanted side effects, wrote Jonathan Parr, from the division of infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I plan to wait out the torrent of positive observational studies and reconsider tocilizumab’s use in Covid-19 if, and only if, more compelling data from randomized trials emerges,” he wrote.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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