Zurich/ Munich: A drug for rheumatoid arthritis appeared to help improve lung function in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, a positive sign for treating those with severe inflammation in their organs.
Treatment with anakinra, sold by Swedish Orphan Biovitrum AB as Kineret, was associated with a 90% survival rate and reduced respiratory symptoms, according to an observational study of 29 patients published Thursday in the Lancet Rheumatology journal.
One of Covid-19’s most harmful effects is inflammation, a protective response to infections and injury that can turn on the body itself in a phenomenon called “cytokine storm.” Drugmakers are testing products such as Roche Holding AG’s Actemra and Kevzara from Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. that counter inflammation, rather than the coronavirus.
“In the story of host-meets-virus, we tend to focus on the virus,” Kate Kernan and Scott Canna of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center wrote in an accompanying editorial. “These and other emerging data rightly focus more attention on the host inflammatory response and might herald a shift in how we approach the host-virus relationship.”
Not Gold Standard
The study, led by Giulio Cavalli at San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, was conducted over three weeks. Results from the treated patients were compared with those of 16 similarly severely ill patients who didn’t get the drug.
Those who got anakinra had a 72% lower chance of exhibiting signs of cytokine storm. However, the study was conducted after the patients were treated, so it wasn’t a gold-standard trial with the potential to prove benefit.
A randomized controlled trial of intravenous anakinra to treat Covid-19 is underway, but is assessing lower doses and doesn’t include patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Roche is conducting its own randomized final-stage study of Actemra in Covid-19 and expects results as soon as June, Chief Executive Officer Severin Schwan said last month on a call with investors. Roche has already ramped up production of the medicine, which has been adopted in some countries’ treatment guidelines.
The trial of Kevzara suggested it might help only critically ill people, prompting Sanofi and Regeneron to push forward with a bigger study focused on dire cases.
Experimental anti-inflammatory drugs are also being studied. GlaxoSmithKline Plc plans to start a trial by the end of May as to whether otilimab, under development for rheumatoid arthritis, could treat patients facing complications with Covid-19.-Bloomberg