The World Health Organization on Tuesday recommended using arthritis drugs Actemra from Roche and Kevzara from Sanofi with corticosteroids for COVID-19 patients after data from some 11,000 patients showed they cut the risk of death.
A WHO group evaluating therapies concluded treating severe and critical COVID patients with these so-called interleukin-6 antagonists that block inflammation "reduces the risk of death and the need for mechanical ventilation".
According to the WHO analysis, the risk of dying within 28 days for patients getting one of the arthritis drugs with corticosteroids such as dexamethasone is 21%, compared with an assumed 25% risk among those who got standard care. For every 100 such patients, four more will survive, the WHO said.
Moreover, the risk of progressing to mechanical ventilation or death was 26% for those getting the drugs and corticosteroids, compared with 33% in those getting standard care. The WHO said that meant for every 100 such patients, seven more will survive without mechanical ventilation.
"We have updated our clinical care treatment guidance to reflect this latest development," WHO Health Emergencies official Janet Diaz said.
The analysis covered 10,930 patients, of whom 6,449 got one of the drugs and 4,481 got standard care or a placebo. It was done with King’s College London, University of Bristol, University College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week issued emergency use approval for Actemra for COVID-19. That's after its off-label use in the pandemic drove up sales by around a third to some $3 billion in 2020.
Kevzara sales rose 30% last year, Sanofi reported.
Still, testing Actemra and Kevzara for COVID-19 patients involved trial and error, as several failures emerged as the companies tried out the medicines on different patient groups.
The WHO also called for more to be done to boost access to such medicines in the lowest-income countries now facing surging COVID-19 cases and virus variants, coupled with inadequate vaccine supplies.
"Those are the people these drugs need to reach," Diaz said.