Drug shows promise in 1st largely minority COVID-19 study

USA & World

Drug shows promise in 1st largely minority COVID-19 study

A drug company on Friday said a medicine it sells to tamp down inflammation has helped prevent the need for breathing machines in hospitalised COVID-19 patients in the first large study that primarily enrolled Hispanic and Black people.

Switzerland-based Roche reported the results for tocilizumab, sold now as Actemra and RoActemra for treating rheumatoid arthritis and some other diseases.

The company said it would quickly publish the results, which have not yet been reviewed by independent scientists, and would speak with regulators about next steps.

The drug, given through an IV, tamps down a protein called interleukin-6 that is often found in excess in COVID-19 patients. It failed in a previous study that tested it in people more severely ill from the coronavirus.

The new study was done in the United States, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, Mexico and Peru. About 85 percent of the 389 participants were Hispanic, Black, Native American or other ethnic or racial minorities. These groups have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic.

A medical worker preparing a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine [File: Hans Pennink/AP]

About 12 percent of people given the drug needed a breathing machine or died within 28 days versus about 19 percent of patients who were given a placebo. Looked at separately, deaths were statistically similar in the two groups.

It is unclear how the results will be viewed; another drug that works in a similar way failed in an experiment rigorously testing it in COVID-19 patients but some less scientific, observational studies have suggested benefits.

This is the third time this week companies have announced positive results from studies testing COVID-19 treatments via press releases.

Companies often are required to disclose results that could affect their financial situation.

On Monday, Eli Lilly reported benefits from a study testing its anti-inflammatory drug baricitinib when combined with the antiviral drug remdesivir. On Wednesday, it said interim results from very early testing suggested its experimental antibody drug showed promise for helping clear the virus and possibly reducing the need for hospitalisation in mild to moderately ill patients.