California doctor says arthritis drug being tested in the US and France to treat coronavirus has improved patients’ symptoms within 72 hours
- Dr Imran Sharief, a pulmonologist from California, gave tocilizumab, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, to severely ill COVID-19 patients
- He said one patient’s condition improved within 72 hours and they came off a ventilator after five days
- It comes after a French study found patients given tocilizumab were less likely to be put on life support and less likely to die than those given a placebo
- Researchers believe it mitigates cytokine storms, which occur when the body doesn’t just fight off the virus but also attacks its own cells and tissues
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Dr Imran Sharief (pictured), a pulmonologist from California, gave tocilizumab, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, to severely ill COVID-19 patients
Dr Imran Sharief, a pulmonologist based in Santa Ana, told Fox News that he treated COVID-19 patients on ventilators with tocilizumab, sold under the brand names RoAcemtra and Actemra,
Within 72 hours, their conditions began to improve and, after five days, he was able to extubate patients and move them out of the ICU.
With no approved treatments specifically for the virus, there is a pressing need to test both existing medicines and experimental therapies to stop the disease – which has killed more than 74,000 Americans – in its tracks.
Tocilizumab belongs to a class of drugs called interleukin-6 inhibitors that could help mitigate a dangerous overreaction to the virus by the body’s immune system called a cytokine storm.
These so-called storms occur when the body doesn’t just fight off the virus but also attacks its own cells and tissues.
In cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, cytokine storms can trigger respiratory distress.
Currently, tocilizumab is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in coronavirus patients.
He said one patient’s condition improved within 72 hours and they came off a ventilator after five days. Pictured: Tocilizumab
Researchers believe the drug mitigates cytokine storms, which occur when the body doesn’t just fight off the virus but also attacks its own cells and tissues. Pictured: US Army service members transport a patient to the ICU at the Javits New York Medical Station, April 18
Sharief said one patient in their 30s had quickly deteriorating health after experiencing the traditional symptoms such as fever and difficulty breathing.
They were on a ventilator and near death when doctors decided to try tocilizumab.
‘We were already cautious and we were worried because this patient was extremely young so we started the medication right away,’ Sharief told Fox News.
He said that if certain critically ill patients are treated with the drug early, organ damage could be prevented.
‘I would suggest to my colleagues that once you see a deteriorating patient, a rapid deterioration in clinical status with high oxygen requirement or on the ventilator, try to start the medication as quickly as possible within first 12 to 24 hours,’ Sharief said.
It comes on the heels of a French study that found patients given injections of the drug were less likely to be put on life support and less likely to die than those given a placebo.
Doctors at Paris Public Hospitals (AP-HP) recruited 129 people who had moderate to severe cases of COVID-19.
Sixty-five patients were given two shots of tocilizumab along with antibiotics, while the remaining 64 received standard antibiotic care.
Results showed that those given the arthritis drug were less likely to die and less likely to need life support in comparison with the control group.
‘The study has shown comprehensively that fewer patients on oxygen with breathing difficulties needed to be transferred to intensive care [after being treated with tocilizumab],’ Dr Jacques Eric Gottenberg of the department of rheumatology at Strasbourg University Hospital told RFI.
AP-HP said the results are being submitted to a peer-reviewed journal but that it chose to share preliminary findings because the drug showed a clear ‘clinical benefit.’
The hospital did note that further research is needed to test the safety and efficacy of treating coronavirus patients with tocilizumab.
‘If these results are confirmed, the advantage of this drug is that it is already available in all hospital pharmacies and can be used very quickly. It’s one or two injections for each patient,’ Gottenberg said.