People seriously ill with coronavirus could be treated with an arthritis drug after a study showed it decreased the risk of death.
The UK Recovery trial published on Thursday showed toscilizumab, typically used to treat those with rheumatoid arthritis, could save the lives of Covid patients.
The study, the world’s biggest coronavirus trial, gave the drug to 2022 patients with Covid-19 who needed oxygen and had evidence of inflammation, and compared them with 2094 random people.
Scientists found the treatment with tocilizumab significantly reduced deaths, saving a life of one in every 25 patients.
The drug was also used in conjunction with another, a systemic steroid called dexamethasone, which has been included in the treatment of Covid patients for several months.
The data suggest that the treatment combined with another drug reduces mortality by about one-third for patients requiring simple oxygen, and nearly a half for those requiring invasive mechanical ventilation.
Professor Peter Horby, 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.”
Wendy Coleman, 62, received tocilizumab through the trial last year when she was admitted to hospital with severe Covid-19.
She said: “I was struggling to breathe quite badly and on the verge of being placed in an intensive care unit when I was asked if I wanted to take part in the trial. After I was given tocilizumab, my condition stabilised and I didn’t get any worse. Up until then, it was quite scary as I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not.”
Scientists said not only could the drug save lives but it could reduce the time spent in hospital by up to ten days.
Toscilizumab costs around £500 per dose, with each patient requiring just one and dexamethasone costs just £5 a dose.