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Breakthrough as arthritis drug saves one in 25 Covid patients in hospital

A drug normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis can prevent Covid patients from being moved to intensive care, new research has revealed.

For every 25 patients given tocilizumab, along with a routine steroid known as dexamethasone, one life could be saved, scientists found. The drug was also found to reduce the risk of death by 14%.

It could also cut the time spent in hospital by five days when given to patients on oxygen in addition to dexamethasone. The medicine has already been made available for use by the NHS to treat Covid patients.

Martin Landray, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, said: ‘The results from the Recovery trial clearly show the benefits of tocilizumab and dexamethasone in tackling the worst consequences of Covid-19 – improving survival, shortening hospital stay, and reducing the need for mechanical ventilators.

‘Used in combination, the impact is substantial. This is good news for patients and good news for the health services that care for them in the UK and around the world.’

More than 4,000 patients were involved in the Recovery trial and 2,022 of them were randomly allocated to receive tocilizumab. The rest then received the usual standard care.

Around 82% of those participating in the study were taking dexamethasone as well. Researchers found that 596 (29%) of the patients in the tocilizumab group died within 28 days, compared with 694 (33%) patients in the usual care group.

Tocilizumab also significantly reduced the chances of a patient requiring a mechanical ventilation from 38% to 33%.

Taking tocilizumab and dexamethasone was also found to cut the risk of death by a third for patients with significant inflammation and requiring oxygen, and by nearly a half for those needing mechanical ventilation.

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and joint chief investigator for Recovery, said previous trials of tocilizumab had ‘shown mixed results’.

He went on: ‘We now know that the benefits of tocilizumab extend to all Covid patients with low oxygen levels and significant inflammation. The double impact of dexamethasone plus tocilizumab is impressive and very welcome.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Today’s excellent news is further proof the UK is at the forefront of the global mission to find safe and effective treatments for this terrible virus.

‘I want to thank all those who have played a part in generating these tremendous results – from the British scientists and researchers behind the trial, to the thousands of patients who took part across the country.

‘We are working quickly and closely with colleagues across the health system and sector to ensure every NHS patient who needs this treatment should be able to access it – reducing further pressures on the NHS and potentially saving thousands of lives.’

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