Chinese doctors gave a drug called Tocilizumab, marketed as Actemrao 20 patients during the peak of the country’s epidemic. Scientists now claim that 19 of them were discharged from hospital within two weeks.
Health officials in China have now approved Actemra to treat coronavirus patients with serious lung damage as a result of high inflammation.
This is often the body’s response to the coronavirus.
Doctors in China trialed the drug to prevent an overreaction of the immune system “called a ‘cytokine storm” seen in some coronavirus patients.
This is where the body’s immune response goes into overdrive and produces inflammation.
The overreaction of the immune system is considered a major factor behind catastrophic organ failure and death in some coronavirus patients.
However, it is not yet clear whether severe pneumonia symptoms seen in critically ill COVID-19 patients are due to the virus.
Patients, who were given routine therapies along with the drug, were diagnosed as severe or critical.
They were being treated at two separate hospitals in the eastern province of Anhui in China – The First Affiliated Hospital of University of Science and Technology of China and Anhui Fuyang Second People’s Hospital.
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Within a few days, patients’ fever returned to normal and all other symptoms improved remarkably, Dr Xiaoling Xu and colleagues report.
Because tocilizumab is already an existing drug, this could be fast tracked into experiments by regulators.
The news brings hope as countries across the world race to develop a vaccine for the disease.
There are currently 471,036 cases across the globe with 21,284 recorded deaths.
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At the time of writing there are 9,574 cases in the UK and 465 deaths.
No patients in the UK are thought to have taken the drug yet, in trials or clinical care.
The drug has been green-lighted by the FDA for trials on patients in the US, reports revealed yesterday.
However, the use of Tocilizumab remains highly controversial.
Experts said the FDA should immediately consider evidence that Actemra can lead to a number of alarming complications.
According to State news reports, these include heart failure, pancreatitis, heart attacks, strokes, and interstitial lung disease, a sometimes-fatal scarring of lung tissue.
The drug is normally used to treat adults with rheumatoid arthritis.
However, it an also treat certain types of childhood arthritis.
It is typically marketed under the names of RoActemra and Actemra, produced by the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche.
Karsten Kleine, a spokesperson for Roche, told NBC News that the drug company “is in active discussions with the FDA, as well as government bodies and institutions around the world, to initiate clinical trials that evaluate the safety and efficacy of Actemra (tocilizumab) for the treatment of severely ill COVID-19 patients.”
The prescription medicine works by reducing levels of IL-6 protein in the body.
The protein is what people with rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune conditions have too much of.
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