A common anti-arthritis drug could be used to treat coronavirus patients

The study was carried out at the University College Dublin's School of Medicine. (Shutterstock)

A new study by University College Dublin's School of Medicine has sparked hope in a well known anti-arthritis drug which could benefit Covid-19 patients.

The study’s findings suggest that if the drug, called tocilizumab, is administered at the right time, it could lead to significantly better outcomes for coronavirus patients.

Within a week of being given the drug, six critically ill patients were all discharged from hospital.

What did the study reveal?

Professor Paddy Mallon of UCD's School of Medicine explained that the study took place in a pre-ICU setting, but “where people are very sick.”

An important inflammatory molecule produced by the immune system, known as IL-6, can cause major damage to internal organs if too much is produced in the bodies of the worst-affected Covid-19 patients.

The most crucial finding in the study showed that just a single dose of tocilizumab prevented this from happening, and stopped the six people studied from needing mechanical ventilation and intensive care.

Speaking about the findings, which have been published in the medical journal Respirology, lead author, Dr Cormac McCarthy explained that the study showed improved oxygen levels and improved X-rays in Covid-19 patients over time because of the drug.

He said, "A rapid decline in inflammatory markers and decreased oxygen requirements was seen in the six patients following administration of tocilizumab.”

The patients in the study did not receive any concurrent immunosuppressive therapy, but only a single dose of tocilizumab, and were subsequently discharged from hospital within an average of seven days after treatment.

Is the study reliable?

In the study, there was an absence of a matched control group - an essential element in ensuring the reliability of scientific findings. Additionally, with only six patients observed, the size of the study was very small.

Most of the patients were also relatively young, and therefore these factors raise caution regarding the validity of the results. However, a larger and more in depth trial is now underway.