July 13, 2020

Drug that calms ‘cytokine storm’ in COVID-19 patients linked to 45% lower risk of dying

By: Judy Mathias
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Editor's Note

Critically ill COVID-19 patients who received a single IV dose of tocilizumab, a drug that calms an overreacting immune system, were 45% less likely to die and more likely to leave the hospital or be off ventilator within a month, finds this new study from the University of Michigan. Tocilizumab was originally designed for rheumatoid arthritis and had been used to calm “cytokine storms” in patients receiving advanced immunotherapy treatment for cancer.

Of 154 critically ill patients treated at Michigan Medicine during the first 6 weeks of the pandemic, 78 received tocilizumab and 76 did not. Most received it within 24 hours of intubation.


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Though tocilizumab was associated with an increase in the proportion of patients with ventilator associated pneumonia superinfections (54% vs 26%), there was no difference in 28-day fatality rates between tocilizumab-treated patients with superinfections vs without superinfections (22% vs 15%).

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy New  Investigator Award.

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