Roche arthritis drug reduces likelihood COVID-19 patients will need ventilator, company claims

Approximately 85% of the 389 patients were from minority racial and ethnic groups

Roche's rheumatoid arthritis treatment may reduce the likelihood that patients with COVID-19-related pneumonia would need a ventilator, the Swiss pharmaceutical company said Friday.

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People who received tocilizumab, marketed as Actemra/RoActemra, were 44% less likely to progress to the point where they would need to rely on life-support equipment, according to the company's Phase 3 EMPACTA study.

The trial was conducted in the United States, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, Mexico and Peru.

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Dr. Levi Garraway, Roche’s chief medical officer, said the company plans to share the data with health authorities around the world, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The results from the trial are considered an "important outcome in this serious disease," he said.

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Officials also noted that the trial was the first to primarily use patients who are often "underrepresented in clinical studies and have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic."

Approximately 85% of the 389 patients were from minority racial and ethnic groups.

The news comes just two months after a separate late-stage study of its Actemra/RoActemra showed the treatment failing to help patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 pneumonia.

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Phase 3 of its Covacta trial didn't "meet its primary endpoint of improved clinical status" the company said in July. The trial also failed to meet key secondary endpoints of reduced patient mortality.

Since the pandemic struck earlier this year, the company has been working on tests to detect the COVID-19 illness. In March, the company's commercially distributed coronavirus test received emergency authorization from the FDA.

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