China backs Roche's Actemra to fight coronavirus complications


Chinese authorities have issued guidelines recommending Roche’s anti-inflammation drug Actemra to combat severe complications caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus.

One of the most serious potential symptoms that can occur with coronavirus is the so-called ‘cytokine storm’ – when the immune system becomes over-stimulated and begins to attack a patient’s own body.

Medics already have considerable experience managing cytokine storms with Roche’s Actemra (tocilizumab) – it is already used in situations where CAR-T cancer therapies have caused this same effect, termed cytokine release syndrome (CRS).

Actemra is a biologic approved in 2010 in the US for rheumatoid arthritis and tones down immune responses by inhibiting interleukin 6 (IL-6).

Reuters reported that China’s National Health Commission published guidelines saying that Actemra can now be used to treat coronavirus patients with serious lung damage and high IL-6 levels.

Researchers are also testing Actemra in a clinical trial expected to include 188 coronavirus patients and running until 10th May.

Roche donated around 14 million yuan ($2.02 million) worth of Actemra in February, and noted the trial was begun independently by a third party with the aim of exploring efficacy and safety of the drug in coronavirus patients with CRS.

There is no published clinical trial data on the drug’s safety or efficacy against coronavirus complications.

Roche also makes a diagnostic test that detects the virus.

Takeda and US biotech Arcturus Therapeutics this week joined a host of companies racing to develop antivirals, vaccines and other forms of treatment for the emergent disease, including Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, and Moderna Therapeutics.

England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty has confirmed that coronavirus has claimed its first victim in the UK.

The patient was reportedly in and out of hospital because of other health problems.

Whitty said: “Sadly, we can confirm that an older patient with underlying health conditions has died. The patient has previously been in and out of hospital for non-coronavirus reasons, but on this occasion was admitted and last night tested positive for coronavirus.

“The family has been informed and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”