SWITZERLAND – Interleukin-6 receptor blockers, tocilizumab and sarilumab, will now be used for the treatment of COVID-19 following a recommendation from World Health Organization (WHO).

The drug will be administered to patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms and will be given alongside corticosteroids, a class of drug that lowers inflammation in the body.

Recommendations by the WHO were based on data from clinical trial across 28 countries that had a data set of 10000 patients.

The meta-analysis data from the clinical trials showed that in severely or critically ill patients, administering these drugs reduce the odds of death by 13%, compared to standard care.

Hence indicating that there will be 15 fewer deaths per thousand patients, and as many as 28 fewer deaths for every thousand critically ill patients.

The odds of mechanical ventilation among severe and critical patients are reduced by 28%, compared with standard care. This translates to 23 fewer patients out of a thousand needing mechanical ventilation.

WHO is now urging companies that produce the drug to agree to transparency, non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements using the C-TAP platform and the Medicines Patent Pool, or to waive exclusivity rights as a measure to ensure equitability and accessibility.

In addition, WHO has launched an expression of interest for prequalification of manufacturers of interleukin-6 receptor blockers.

Prequalification of innovator and biosimilar products aims to expand the availability of quality-assured products and to increase access through market competition and reduce prices to meet urgent public health needs.

“These drugs offer hope for patients and families who are suffering from the devastating impact of severe and critical COVID-19. But IL-6 receptor blockers remain inaccessible and unaffordable for the majority of the world,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

He added, “The inequitable distribution of vaccines means that people in low- and middle-income countries are most susceptible to severe forms of COVID-19. So, the greatest need for these drugs is in countries that currently have the least access. We must urgently change this.”

The drug will be among the first candidate of COVID-19 therapy to be recommended by WHO after corticosteroids that were recommended in September 2020.