Update: China is still using decade-old arthritis drug to treat Coronavirus (COVID-19)

WUHAN, Jan. 24, 2020 (Xinhua) -- Peng Zhiyong (C), head of the department of critical care medicine of Zhongnan Hospital, performs diagnosis on a patient with his colleagues in Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 24, 2020. Central China's Hubei province reported 105 new confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and seven new deaths on Thursday, the provincial health authorities announced Friday. (Xinhua/Xiong Qi/IANS)

The Chinese health authorities now recommend the use of Roche’s drug for rheumatoid arthritis, Actemra, in the treatment of serious novel coronavirus patients, the media reported.

China’s National Health Commission made the recommendation in the updated treatment guidelines for COVID-19 released on Wednesday, pharma industry news site FiercePharma reported.

The decision was taken after seeing promising results in clinical practice.

The Swiss drugmaker donated nearly $2 million worth of Actemra to China, its local operations said in a blog post on Monday.

The donation was made last week after a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that promising results had been observed in 14 serious and critically ill patients treated with existing medicines at a hospital affiliated with the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC).

As per the revelations made by USTC, the regimen includes Actemra. A randomized clinical trial evaluating the drug’s application has already been started there.

Actemra is known as an inhibitor of the receptor of interleukin 6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory cytokine.

A research team consisting of respiratory specialists from the Wuhan-based Tongji Hospital, central China’s Hubei province, found that critically ill patients had the most interleukin-2 receptor (IL-2R) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) in their serum, while the patients with mild pneumonia had the least, which showed that the severity of the disease is positively correlated with the expression levels of the two serum cytokines.

The national diagnosis and treatment plan for COVID-19 unveiled by the Chinese health authorities on Wednesday includes the results of autopsies of COVID-19 victims and pathological observation based on needle biopsies, Xinhua reported.

China has added the antibody diagnosis method for COVID-19 and its relevant criteria in the country’s latest diagnosis and treatment scheme, which also includes warning against transmission of the novel coronavirus via aerosol or contact due to environmental pollution caused by the excrement and urine of patients.

Roche’s Actemra drug was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010.


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