UK approves two drugs reducing risk of death on sickest COVID-19 patients by a quarter

Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Dec. 23, 2020.
Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Dec. 23, 2020. Copyright AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
By Alice Tidey
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The two anti-inflammatory drugs, called tocilizumab and sarilumab, are typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis but were found to reduce the risk of death and accelerate recovery time for COVID-19 patients in ICU.


British authorities on Thursday approved the use of two new drugs found to reduce the risk of death for severely-ill COVID-19 patients by about a quarter.

The two anti-inflammatory drugs, called tocilizumab and sarilumab, are typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Clinical trials involving 800 people showed that the mortality rate for patients treated with the drugs within 24 hours of their admission into intensive care units (ICU), and in combination with dexamethasone, stood at 27.3 per cent.

In contrast, patients receiving only dexamethasone, a cheap steroid approved by British and European health authorities in September 2020, had a mortality rate of 35.8 per cent.

Patients receiving either of the two drugs were also more likely to have a shorter recovery time and were able to be discharged from ICU about a week earlier.

"This is a significant finding which could have immediate implications for the sickest patients with COVID-19," Professor Anthony Gordon, Chair in Anaesthesia and Critical Care at Imperial College London said in a statement.

"At a time when hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 are soaring in the UK, it's crucial we continue to identify effective treatments which can help turn the tide against this disease, he added.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that the National Health Service could start using the two drugs from Friday to treat severe COVID-19 cases.

Tocilizumab — which is administered intravenously — is to be used immediately as UK hospitals currently have supplies. The government said it is "working closely" with Roche, a Swiss healthcare company, which manufactures the drug "to ensure treatments continue to be available to UK patients."

Britain has also banned the exports of the drug.

Euronews has contacted the European Medicines Agency to learn whether it plans to review the use of the two drugs shortly.

The UK is currently wrestling with a third wave of the pandemic with over 50,000 new infections reported daily in over a week. More than 1,000 fatalities have also been recorded on two consecutive days, taking the death toll to 75,508 — the highest in Europe.

The sharp increases in infections and fatalities have been blamed on a new variant of the novel coronavirus, discovered last month by British authorities, and which is up to 70 per cent more transmissible.

A third national lockdown came into force across England on Wednesday to curb the spread of the variant and is expected to last until mid-February, by which point the government hopes to have vaccinated 15 million people across the UK

The UK has approved the vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford University. By January 7, nearly 1.5 million British people had been administered the jab.

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