UCL Cancer Institute


Trial to test immunosuppressant drug on COVID-19 pneumonia patients begins

5 May 2020

Researchers in the COVACTA study led at UCLH by Dr Claire Roddie and Prof Kwee Yong will investigate whether tocilizumab can dampen the overactive immune response clinicians have observed in patients.

Patient with iv line

This is the first ‘immunomodulatory’ study in Covid-19 to open at UCLH – a treatment approach thought to be promising by UCLH front line clinicians who have been treating Covid-19 patients.

In this study, researchers will evaluate the safety and effectiveness of tocilizumab (TCZ) developed by Roche compared with a placebo in combination with standard of care in COVID-19 patients with severe pneumonia hospitalised at UCLH. Patient outcomes will be assessed after 28 days and look at whether and for how long patients required mechanical ventilation; whether and for how long patients had to be admitted to the ICU; and the time taken to discharge.

TCZ was approved in 2017 by US authorities for the treatment in some patients of a serious overreaction of the immune system known as cytokine release syndrome (CRS) which is similar to the immune response in COVID-19.

Doctors in China have used TCZ on an off-label basis to treat Covid-19 patients with pneumonia, and a review of 21 patients who were given the drug suggests it was highly effective at improving all symptoms of the disease, including reducing fever. A larger study in China is now underway looking at TCZ and the China National Health Commission has listed the drug as one treatment option for severe or critical forms of COVID-19 pneumonia.

Dr Claire Roddie said: “Clinical experience suggests that immunomodulation is going to be a key approach in tackling Covid-19 and may be more helpful than other approaches. We hope to be able to build on emerging data from China and show that tocilizumab is beneficial in Covid-19 patients who experience this overactive immune response.”

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