China approves use of Roche drug in battle against coronavirus complications
China has approved the use of Swiss drugmaker Roche’s anti-inflammation drug Actemra for patients who develop severe complications from the coronavirus, Reuters reports.
China is hoping that some older drugs could stop severe cytokine release syndrome (CRS), or cytokine storms, an overreaction of the immune system which is considered a major factor behind catastrophic organ failure and death in some coronavirus patients.
Actemra for coronavirus patients with serious lung damage and high IL-6 levels
Actemra, a biologic drug approved in 2010 in the United States for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inhibits high Interleukin 6 (IL-6) protein levels that drive some inflammatory diseases.
China’s National Health Commission said in treatment guidelines published online on Wednesday that Actemra can now be used to treat coronavirus patients with serious lung damage and high IL-6 levels.
Separately, researchers in the country are testing Actemra, known generically as tocilizumab, in a clinical trial expected to include 188 coronavirus patients and running until May 10.
Roche, which donated 14 million yuan ($2.02 million) worth of Actemra during February, said the trial was initiated independently by a third party with the aim of exploring the efficacy and safety of the drug in coronavirus patients with CRS.
A go-to drug against other inflammatory conditions
Since Actemra’s approval a decade ago, it has become a go-to drug against other inflammatory conditions, including cytokine storms in cancer patients receiving cell therapies from Novartis (NOVN.S) and Gilead Sciences (GILD.O).
The Swiss company, for which China is its No. 2 market behind the United States, also makes diagnostic gear to detect the coronavirus.