WHO recommends lifesaving tocilizumab, sarilumab for critically ill Covid-19 patients

  • The WHO urged drug manufacturers to reduce prices of the IL-6 blocking drugs – tocilizumab and sarilumab – and make supplies available to low- and middle-income countries.
IL-6 blocking drugs – tocilizumab and sarilumab – act to suppress the overreaction of the immune system.(Reuters)
IL-6 blocking drugs – tocilizumab and sarilumab – act to suppress the overreaction of the immune system.(Reuters)
Published on Jul 07, 2021 06:56 PM IST
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By | Written by Kunal Gaurav | Edited by Avik Roy, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended interleukin-6 receptor blockers for the treatment of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) patients who are severely or critically ill. The UN health agency on Tuesday updated its patient care guidelines to include the drugs that are lifesaving in critically ill Covid-19 patients, especially when administered alongside corticosteroids.

The drugs were recommended after analysing data from over 10,000 patients enrolled in 27 clinical trials. According to the WHO, patients severely or critically ill with Covid-19 often suffer from an overreaction of the immune system, which can be very harmful to the patient’s health. IL-6 blocking drugs – tocilizumab and sarilumab – act to suppress this overreaction and were in high demand during India’s devastating second wave of Covid-19 which claimed thousands of lives.

A study showed that administering interleukin-6 receptor blocker drugs to critically ill patients with Covid-19 reduces the odds of death by 13%, compared to the standard care. The chances of mechanical ventilation required by severe and critical patients were also reduced by 28%. These are the first drugs found to be effective against Covid-19 since corticosteroids were recommended by WHO in September 2020.

The WHO urged drug manufacturers to reduce prices of the lifesaving drugs and make supplies available to low- and middle-income countries, especially where the virus is surging. While highlighting the inaccessibility of IL-6 in the majority of the world, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said in a statement that the drugs offer hope for patients and families suffering from the impact of severe Covid-19.

“The inequitable distribution of vaccines means that people in low- and middle-income countries are most susceptible to severe forms of COVID-19. So, the greatest need for these drugs is in countries that currently have the least access. We must urgently change this,” the WHO chief added.

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