The two new drugs, tocilizumab and sarilumab, typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, are monoclonal antibodies that target a protein called interleukin-6, which is thought to be important in the COVID-19 infection pathway.
The drugs have shown effectiveness for patients requiring organ support, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam said that data from a clinical trial showed that the drugs can speed up and improve the odds of recovery in intensive care.
“Results from the government-funded REMAP-CAP clinical trial published today showed tocilizumab and sarilumab reduced the relative risk of death by 24%, when administered to patients within 24 hours of entering intensive care,” DHSC said in a statement.
According to the DHSC, the REMAP-CAP analysis, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, also indicated that patients who received either one of these drugs left intensive care on average between 7 and 10 days earlier than those who didn’t.
“Most of the data came from when the drugs were administered in addition to a corticosteroid, such as dexamethasone,” DHSC said.
Health Minister Matt Hancock said he’s delighted with the news and that these drugs “will play a significant role in defeating this virus.”
I’m delighted that two new drugs, tocilizumab & sarilumab, have been approved to help save lives from COVID & will be used in our NHS from tomorrow.
THANK YOU to everyone involved in this breakthrough that British scientists have achieved, working internationally & with our NHS. pic.twitter.com/0t8rXAfl17
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) January 7, 2021
Speaking at a televised briefing on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the drugs “will be available through the NHS with immediate effect, potentially saving thousands of lives.”
The UK government has banned the exporting or hoarding of tocilizumab and sarilumab, adding them to the list of already banned drugs.
Other ongoing trials, including the RECOVERY trial, are assessing the efficacy of the two drugs in wider patient groups outside of intensive care settings, DHSC said.
According to the government’s interim position statement (pdf) on using tocilizumab for COVID-19 patients, “The REMAP-CAP trial excluded pregnant women, whereas the RECOVERY trial has included pregnant women.”
The statement said data showed a high dose of tocilizumab has been shown to increase risk of spontaneous abortion/embryofoetal death in animal trials, but there isn’t enough data to assess its potential risk to humans.