Researchers at UC San Diego Health have launched a clinical trial to study tocilizumab, a drug for inflammatory disorders. This trial is part of a global effort to determine if the medication can be used to help COVID-19 patients with lung damage.
Tocilizumab is commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and is marketed as Actemra. It works by blocking cellular receptors for interleukin-6 (IL-6), a small protein that can trigger inflammation in the body. When this receptor is blocked, the body's inflammatory immune response is dampened.
Some patients with COVID-19 overexpress IL-6, which can cause the "cytokine storm" found in some cases of COVID-19. This can lead to life-threatening inflammation and damage to the lungs and other organs. For this reason, tocilizumab may help these patients.
Chinese researchers in Wuhan, China, initially began treating a small number of COVID-19 patients with tocilizumab in the early days of the virus. This intervention showed promising results, and the Chinese National Health commission now includes it in its treatment guidelines for COVID-19-related pneumonia and lung conditions.
The trial will enroll 330 participate at around 70 sites around the world. UC San Diego Health will recruit up to 20 participants for its part of the study. In the study, participants diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia or poor lung gas exchange will receive intravenous infusion of either tocilizumab or placebo.
Atul Malhotra, M.D. chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at UC San Diego Health, said in a press release that his team is looking into three primary questions:
"Does tocilizumab improve the health and clinical status of treated COVID-19 patients? Does it reduce the mortality rate due to COVID-19 pneumonia? Does it reduce the need for mechanical ventilation or need for patients to go into intensive care units?"
The results of the study will help determine tocilizumab's potential role in COVID-positive patients with lung damage. According to Genentech and Roche, the trial is expected to be completed by early summer.