Early UCD trial of common arthritis drug to treat Covid-19 shows promise

29 Jul 2020

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Researchers from the UCD School of Medicine have found that a common arthritis drug may be effective for treating critically-ill Covid-19 patients.

A recent drug trial at University College Dublin (UCD) has suggested that a common arthritis treatment may deliver favourable outcomes in patients with Covid-19 and help those with severe cases avoid the need for mechanical ventilation.

As part of the trial, 193 Covid-19 patients in an all-Ireland infectious diseases cohort study were considered for tocilizumab, a commonly available drug used to treat arthritis. Of that number, eight were considered for the drug treatment as they presented with severe Covid-19 pneumonia, and six were then treated with it at a maximum dose of 800mg.

After treatment, these six participants showed a rapid improvement, did not require ventilation and were all sent home within seven days after receiving the drug. The researchers’ findings have been published to the journal Respirology.

Much more research needed

“This study suggests that treatment with tocilizumab in the pre-ICU setting where patients are critically unwell may avoid the need for mechanical ventilation and may deliver a favourable outcome,” said lead author of the study, Dr Cormac McCarthy.

“However, there should be caution in interpreting these results due to a number of considerations, including the small cohort of patients, the patient group being relatively young, and the absence of an appropriately matched control group.”

McCarthy said that randomised controlled trials are needed to determine whether tocilizumab can truly be considered as a safe treatment for severe Covid-19. A new trial led by Prof Paddy Mallon at St Vincent’s University Hospital and the Mater Hospital is currently underway.

Elsewhere, US biotech company Moderna announced it has finished testing its Covid-19 vaccine candidate on monkeys. The study involved giving two doses to 16 monkeys and it successfully protected them against the virus.

Both injections were found to offer protection against coronavirus exposure and the monkeys did not show any sign of vaccine-associated enhanced respiratory disease, according to Moderna’s report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic