WHO Recommends Roche’s Actemra, Sanofi’s Kevzara to Treat Severe COVID-19
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the use of interleukin-6 receptor blockers — including Roche’s Actemra (tocilizumab) and Sanofi’s Kevzara (sarilumab) — plus corticosteroids for the treatment of severe COVID-19.
WHO researchers, who reviewed 27 trials enrolling nearly 11,000 patients, found that treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients with arthritis drugs such as Actemra and Kevzara helped reduce both the risk of death and the need for supplementary oxygen.
The findings, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that the risk of mortality for patients treated with an interleukin-6 receptor antagonist plus a corticosteroid like dexamethasone was reduced by 13 percent vs. standard of care at 28 days, while the risk of advancing to mechanical ventilation was slashed by 28 percent.
But there are growing calls for the prices of the drugs to be reduced. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said they “remain inaccessible and unaffordable for the majority of the world,” pushing for more equitable distribution of COVID-19 treatments. And Doctors Without Borders has called on Roche to lower Actemra’s price and to share its technology with generics-makers around the world.
Actemra, which received FDA Emergency Use Authorization late last month for treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients, earned nearly $3.2 billion in global sales in 2020 and its new status as a coronavirus therapy should lead to significant revenue this year (DID, June 28). Similarly, Kevzara posted global sales of almost $279 million in 2020 and is well-poised to substantially increase that number. ― Jason Scott