The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday recommended interleukin-6 receptor blockers for people with severe COVID-19, urging the producers to join efforts to rapidly increase the access to the drugs.
The WHO said in a press release that the move is based on the findings from a prospective and a living network meta-analysis initiated by the WHO, the largest such analysis on the drugs to date.
These are the first drugs found to be effective against COVID-19 since corticosteroids were recommended by WHO in September 2020.
"Patients severely or critically ill with COVID-19 often suffer from an overreaction of the immune system, which can be very harmful to the patient's health. Interleukin-6 blocking drugs - tocilizumab and sarilumab - act to suppress this overreaction," the WHO press release said.
According to the WHO, the prospective and living network meta-analysis showed that in severely or critically ill patients, administering these drugs reduces the odds of death by 13 percent, compared to standard care.
This means that there will be 15 fewer deaths per thousand patients, and as many as 28 fewer deaths for every thousand critically ill patients, WHO said.
In addition, by using the drugs the odds of mechanical ventilation among severe and critical patients are reduced by 28 percent, compared with standard care, and this translates to 23 fewer patients out of a thousand needing mechanical ventilation.
To increase access and affordability of these life-saving products, the WHO calls on manufacturers to reduce prices and make supplies available to low-and middle-income countries, especially where COVID-19 is surging.
According to Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), tocilizumab belongs to the class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), that are used in the treatment of various diseases including cancers, which has been priced extremely high and is hence virtually less possible to access in low-and middle-income countries.
Another mAb recommended by WHO today, sarilumab, is under wide patent protection globally, raising immediate challenges of ensuring uninterrupted production and supply, MSF said.