Arthritis drugs may reduce deaths for severely ill COVID-19 patients, study finds

The use of two arthritis drugs may lower the death rate for severely ill COVID-19 patients, according to research published Jan. 7 in the medical preprint server medRXiv.

For the study, which has not been peer-reviewed, researchers from Imperial College London examined the outcomes of 803 COVID-19 patients who required intensive care. About half of the patients received either the arthritis drug tocilizumab or sarilumab, while the other half received standard care.  

The death rate for patients who received tocilizumab or sarilumab was 27 percent, compared to 36 percent for patients in the control group. Patients who took the arthritis drugs were able discontinue use of certain machines and medications needed to support lung or heart health sooner and were discharged a few days earlier than patients who did not receive the medications, according to The New York Times.

The study's findings contradict numerous clinical trials, which found arthritis drugs did not benefit COVID-19 patients, including those from Sanofi and Novartis.The new findings spurred Britain on Jan. 8 to issue new guidance for healthcare providers to use the two arthritis drugs for severely ill patients, reports the Times

While some scientists not involved with the study have called the findings promising, others have taken a more cautious approach.

"I guess I would interpret with caution until this was published in a peer-reviewed journal," said Lauren Henderson, MD, a rheumatologist at Boston Children's Hospital, told the Times.



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