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11th Feb 2021

Arthritis drug may reduce your risk of death from coronavirus, study finds

A prominent arthritis drug may hold the key to reducing deaths from coronavirus and time spent in hospital, a new study suggests

Alex Roberts

The drug has long been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis

A prominent arthritis drug may hold the key to reducing deaths from coronavirus, a new study suggests.

When patients hospitalised with Covid-19 took tocilizumab combined with the steroid dexamethasone, it reduced their risk of succumbing to the virus by four per cent.

This means that one in 25 Covid-19 deaths in hospital could be prevented.

Scientists began to experiment with tocilizumab in April 2020, in a bid to tackle the rapid spread of coronavirus. The RECOVERY trial, as the study became known, officially ended on January 24 2021. By this point, researchers felt they had involved enough participants to judge whether the drug had been effective or not.

Results are certainly encouraging.

Relative risk of death was reduced by 14 per cent, as was the time spent in hospital in total.

A June 2020 study published in The Lancet also discovered that tocilizumab reduced the risk of death in people with severe Covid-19 – and even the need for ventilation.

Given how stretched and overwhelmed ICU departments have been across the country, this is another positive sign.

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, and it was unclear which patients might benefit from the treatment. 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.”

These thoughts were echoed by his Oxford University colleague Martin Landray. He 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.”

As a result, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to make the drug more widely available on the NHS.