By James Gallagher
Health and science correspondent

Publishedduration3 hours agoRelated Topics

  • Coronavirus pandemic

image copyrightGetty Images

The rheumatoid arthritis drugs tocilizumab appears to treat people who are critically ill with Covid-19, early trial data shows.

The researchers in the UK and the Netherlands said it was "an absolutely amazing result".

The drug is no longer being trialled as the researchers are so confident in the data, but the precise effect on survival is still being calculated.

Other experts have urged caution until the full data is released.

Tocilizumab targets the immune system, which goes into overdrive in some patients with coronavirus. It is this reaction, rather than the virus itself, which can be deadly.

The trial was run by Imperial College London, the UK's Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre, and Utrecht University. It focused on the most severely ill patients, who needed to be put on a ventilator.

Trials of the drug were stopped two days ago as independent monitors said there was enough evidence, from the first 303 patients, to show it was working.

However, interpreting the results is complex.

They show an improvement in "outcomes", but this is a statistical conflation of other measures such as survival rates and time in intensive care. Doctors know the drug is doing something, but it will take time to know whether it is saving lives or just speeding up recovery.

"We don't know that yet, we are hopeful it does both," said Prof Anthony Gordon from Imperial.

However, he said it was "very encouraging", a "big result", and that tocilizumab could "become the standard of care".

It will still take weeks to properly assess the data, which has not yet been formally published.

The treatment costs between £500 and £1,000 and is given intravenously.