A sick nursing home resident lies in bed

Two commonly used autoimmune drugs cut deaths and substantially improved clinical status in adults with COVID-19, a large clinical trial led by the National Institutes of Health has found. The medications could be used in addition to standard-of-care treatments to improve outcomes, the agency says.

Investigators treated hospitalized patients with infliximab (Remicade) and abatacept (Orencia) to determine whether the drugs reduced the risk of overactive immune responses that can lead to life-threatening complications. 

When compared to placebo, patients given Remicade had 40% lower odds of dying and 44% greater odds of clinical improvement. In the Orencia trial group, risk of death was reduced by 37% and the likelihood of clinical improvement rose by 34%, investigators reported. The drugs did not appear to speed recovery time, however.

“When given in addition to standard-of-care treatments, like remdesivir and dexamethasone, infliximab and abatacept each offered a substantial reduction in mortality,” said the trial’s protocol chair, William G. Powderly, M.D., of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “These drugs could potentially add to the therapeutic options available for the treatment of patients hospitalized with COVID-19.”

The trial is part of a broader public-private initiative to see if certain existing drugs will help shorten recovery times and reduce deaths by lessening the effects of immune response in COVID-19. Infliximab and abatacept are widely used to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis by reducing inflammation.

In certain cases, COVID-19 spurs what’s called a cytokine storm, the release of excessive amounts of proteins. This in turn triggers inflammation, leading to complications such as acute respiratory distress syndrome and multiple organ failure. 

Related articles:

Remdesivir cuts risk of severe COVID-19 by 87% in non-hospitalized patients

25 percent of COVID-19 patients have post-acute symptoms; Report highlights emerging care needs

FDA OKs first injectable antibody drug to prevent COVID-19 in high-risk patients