Roche, Sanofi arthritis drugs reduce death rates among sickest COVID-19 patients

Roche, Sanofi arthritis drugs reduce death rates among sickest COVID-19 patients
A Sanofi logo is seen during the company's annual results news conference in Paris, France, February 6, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 January 2021

Roche, Sanofi arthritis drugs reduce death rates among sickest COVID-19 patients

Roche, Sanofi arthritis drugs reduce death rates among sickest COVID-19 patients
  • Actemra, Kevzara cut patients’ time in intensive care
  • “They are both lifesaving drugs,” says study co-leader

LONDON: Treating critically ill COVID-19 patients with Roche’s Actemra or Sanofi’s Kevzara arthritis drugs significantly improves survival rates and reduces the amount of time patients need intensive care, study results showed on Thursday.
The findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, showed that the immunosuppressive drugs — Actemra, also known as tocilizumab, and Kevzara, also known as sarilumab — reduced death rates by 8.5 percentage points among patients hospitalized and severely ill with the pandemic disease.
That would mean that for every 12 patients treated with one of the two drugs, an extra life would be saved, said Anthony Gordon, an Imperial College London professor of anaesthesia and critical care who co-led the study. The data will boost confidence that some existing drugs can be repurposed to help with the pandemic that has killed more than 1.87 million people and crushed global economies.
It also comes as countries struggle to contain two variants of the virus found in South Africa and Britain that are more transmissible and have driven a surge in infections.
The UK government said it would ask doctors treating critically ill COVID-19 patients in hospital intensive care units to begin using the drugs immediately.
“This is a significant step forward for increasing survival of patients,” the UK’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, said in a statement.
He said the drugs would be “crucial for helping to relieve pressure on intensive care and hospitals and saving lives.”
Drug companies have been scouring their existing portfolios for possible therapies. So far the generic steroid dexamethasone and Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir have been approved for treating patients with severe symptoms.
The United States has also authorized emergency use of some antibody drugs for non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
The data, from around 800 severely ill COVID-19 patients involved in an international study known as the REMAP-CAP trial showed that the two drugs reduced mortality rates from 35.8% in a control group to 27.3% among patients receiving either tocilizumab or sarilumab.
“That’s a big change in survival,” said Gordon. “They are both lifesaving drugs.”
The results also showed that on average, patients treated with Actemra or Kevzara recovered more swiftly and were able to be discharged from intensive care units around seven to 10 days earlier than those who did not get these drugs.
“This ... could have immediate implications for the sickest patients with COVID-19,” Gordon said. “We’re seeing the actual benefit in terms of survival and quicker recovery.”
Until now, results for Actemra and Kevzara — both a type of drug known as IL-6 receptor antagonists — in treatment trials in patients with COVID-19 have been mixed.
Sanofi said in September that Kevzara — which it produces with partner Regeneron — failed to meet the main goals of a US study testing it in critically ill COVID-19 patients.
In November, Roche said research showed Actemra helped the sickest COVID-19 patients, but it was unclear if it kept people alive or shortened how long they needed intensive care support such as mechanical ventilation, or both.
Gordon noted on Thursday that previous studies had found no clear benefit, but said those trials had included less severely ill patients and started treatment at different stages in the disease course.
“A crucial difference may be that in our study, critically ill patients were enrolled within 24 hours of starting organ support,” he said. “This highlights a potential early window for treatment where the sickest patients may gain the most benefit from immune modulation treatment.”
Thursday’s trial data have not yet been peer-reviewed but were published online on the medRxiv website.


‘Get out Bolsonaro!’ say ex-supporters in Brazil as COVID-19, vaccines weigh

Demostrators take part in a protest in Brasilia on January 24, 2021 against Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and his handling of the coronavirus disease outbreak. (REUTERS/Adriano Machado)
Demostrators take part in a protest in Brasilia on January 24, 2021 against Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and his handling of the coronavirus disease outbreak. (REUTERS/Adriano Machado)
Updated 32 sec ago

‘Get out Bolsonaro!’ say ex-supporters in Brazil as COVID-19, vaccines weigh

Demostrators take part in a protest in Brasilia on January 24, 2021 against Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and his handling of the coronavirus disease outbreak. (REUTERS/Adriano Machado)
  • Support for Bolsonaro has fallen by the largest amount since the beginning of his government in 2019
  • His administration was rated as bad or terrible by 40% of respondents, compared with 32% in early-December

RIO DE JANEIRO: Meggy Fernandes voted for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s 2018 presidential election, attracted by the far-right former army captain’s promise to shake up a hidebound political establishment mired in endless graft scandals.
But after watching him jettison his anti-corruption pledges, strike pacts with the politicians he vowed to shun, and, most importantly, botch Brazil’s coronavirus response, Fernandes, 66, now says she was wrong to place her faith in Bolsonaro.
“I’m so revolted by my vote,” she said in a supermarket carpark in Rio de Janeiro, at an unusual pro-impeachment rally convened by right-wing groups. “Bolsonaro is overseeing a terrible government. He’s doing a disservice to the nation. His handling of the pandemic is completely wrong.”
Despite repeatedly denying the severity of the pandemic and overseeing a response that has blighted Brazil with the world’s second highest number of COVID-19 fatalities after the United States, Bolsonaro ended 2020 riding high in the polls, buoyed by a generous coronavirus support package.
January has been less kind, however. The welfare program is now over, leaving many poor Brazilians stranded as a second wave gathers steam. Others have been irked by the federal government’s slow and patchy vaccine rollout, and Bolsonaro’s personal pledge not to take any COVID-19 shot.
A recent surge in cases in the northern city of Manaus, which was one of the first places badly hit by the virus during the first wave, has proved to be another stain on the president’s coronavirus response. The city, deep in the Amazon rainforest, ran out of oxygen last week, leaving hospitals reliant on black-market cylinders, or tanks imported from Bolsonaro’s longtime foe Venezuela.
Support for Bolsonaro has fallen by the largest amount since the beginning of his government in 2019, a Datafolha poll on Friday showed. His administration was rated as bad or terrible by 40% of respondents, compared with 32% in early-December. Just under a third of respondents rated Bolsonaro’s government as good or excellent, versus 37% in the previous poll.
In Brasilia, though, Bolsonaro seems to be on steadier ground. A majority of Brazilians reject him being impeached, a second Datafolha poll on Friday found. It showed that 53% of respondents are against Congress opening impeachment proceedings, up from 50% in a previous survey. Those favoring impeachment fell to 43% from 46%.
Bolsonaro-backed candidates are also expected to win control of Congress next month. His growing willingness to discuss political horse-trading has helped him secure a base of center-right lawmakers who could scotch any chances of impeachment.
But it is exactly those partnerships that brought out a smattering of protesters to a scorching parking lot in Rio’s Barra da Tijuca neighborhood on Sunday.
Convened by Vem Pra Rua and Movimento Brasil Livre, two right-wing groups whose nationwide protests in 2016 helped precipitate the impeachment and later removal of former leftist President Dilma Rousseff, Sunday’s protests were full of disgusted former Bolsonaro supporters. Similar events took place in Sao Paulo and Brasilia, with left-wing pro-impeachment protests across Brazil on Saturday.
Although turnout in Rio was thin, if the numbers swell in the months ahead, it may pose a problem for the president ahead of 2022, when he is certain to seek re-election.
Like others at the protest, Patricia Resende, a 57-year-old civil servant, said Bolsonaro was unlikely to be impeached.
She said many of her friends who voted for Bolsonaro still liked him. But Resende said she had come to “take a stand” against what she described as his “electoral swindle.”
“He has been a coronavirus denier,” she said. “He didn’t try to buy enough vaccines for a population of more than 200 million people.”
As the crowd assembled, Fernandes picked up the microphone and gave an impassioned speech about Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic and her disappointment of his presidency.
“’Long live Bolsonaro!’” she exclaimed as she finished, before realizing her error, blushing and quickly correcting herself. “Sorry, I meant ‘Get out Bolsonaro!”