WHO recommends life-saving interleukin-6 receptor blockers for COVID-19 and urges producers to join efforts to rapidly increase access

by Kashmiira Nayar


The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its patient care guidelines to include interleukin-6 receptor blockers for patients who are severely or critically ill with COVID-19, especially when administered alongside corticosteroids. 

The WHO now recommends the use of interleukin-6 receptor blockers to suppress the overreaction of the immune system in patients with COVID-19 upon the findings from a prospective and a living network meta-analysis with data from over 10 000 patients enrolled in 27 clinical trials – the largest till date.

The meta-analyses showed that in severely or critically ill patients, administering Interleukin-6 blocking drugs, tocilizumab and sarilumab, reduce the odds of death by 13%, 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. 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. 

Clinical trial investigators in 28 countries shared data with WHO, including pre-publication data. Researchers worldwide compiled and analyzed the data. With the support of these critical partnerships, WHO has been able to issue a rapid and trustworthy recommendation for the use of interleukin-6 receptor blockers in severe and critical COVID-19 patients – the first drugs found to be effective against COVID-19 since corticosteroids that were recommended by WHO in September 2020. 

To increase access and affordability of these life-saving products, WHO appeals to manufacturers to reduce prices and make supplies available to low- and middle-income countries, especially where COVID-19 is surging. In addition, it encourages companies to agree to transparent, non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements using the C-TAP platform and the Medicines Patent Pool, or to waive exclusivity rights.

Lastly, 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.

(Source: World Health Organization, 6th July 2021)


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