Drug used to treat arthritis could save the lives of those sickest from COVID-19, study finds

Tocilizumab has long been used to treat joint pain, swelling
Posted at 3:43 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 17:31:57-05

TAMPA, Fla. — A drug used for nearly a decade to prevent joint pain and swelling in those with arthritis could save your life from COVID-19. A new study is showing promising results with those sickest from the coronavirus.

There’s a promising drug doctors are using right now to treat the sickest of the sick. It’s called Tocilizumab under the brand name Actembra.

“This is basically another tool in the toolbox for us to help prevent people from getting severe COVID and die," said Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist at USF Health.

The antibody has been used to lessen the inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis for nearly a decade now.

Preliminary findings of the RECOVERY Trial out of the U.K. show Tocilizumab also reduces the risk of death, shortens the amount of time someone is in the hospital and lessens the need for a ventilator.

“If you get infected and have severe COVID now there's an additional drug that can help you survive," said Dr. Teng.

The same trial by the University of Oxford first discovered Dexamethasone was effective in fighting COVID.

“So they've [researchers] tried things like anti-HIV drugs, which didn't work very well. They tried hydroxychloroquine and the study showed it didn't work very well," said Dr. Teng.

Dexamethasone was used on former President Donald Trump. Now it's part of standard care. Meanwhile, Tocilizumab would provide it a boost. The study shows for every 25 patients treated with the drug, one additional life would have been saved.

But is it necessary with millions of Americans now getting vaccinated? Doctor Teng insists it absolutely is necessary.

“Only about 4% of our population has gotten both doses of vaccine. So that means there's a lot of people out there that are still susceptible to coronavirus infection.”

Dr. Teng warns there are downsides to the drug.

“It's expensive, it's not that widely available," he said.

Nonetheless, he believes, any tool to help in the fight against the pandemic is always welcome.