Turku hospital starts coronavirus drug treatment tests

The trial is underway at Tyks and aims to reduce the number of Covid-19 patients who might need intensive care.

File picture of scientists in protective suits / Credit: iStock

Turku University Hospital Tyks has launched a trial of a drug called tocilizumab to see if it can help stop coronavirus patients from becoming acutely ill and needing to be treated in intensive care.

Tocilizumab is an immuno-suppresant drug usually used in the treatment of inflammatory conditions like arthritis, but researchers think it shows potential for treating some of the symptoms of Covid-19 – including possibly preventing a ‘cytokine storm’.

A cytokine storm happens when large numbers of white blood cells are activated and release inflammatory molecules, and has been observed in some Covid-19 patients who are critically ill in intensive care.

Jarmo Oksi, the Chief Physician of Infectious Diseases at Tyks says that even apparently quite fit people can become seriously ill with coronavirus, despite having only mild symptoms at first.

“About 20% of all coronavirus patients are severely symptomatic. They have considerable difficulty breathing and computer imaging can show extensive changes in the lungs” explains Dr Oksi.

“International studies have found that almost a third of patients with Covid-19 who are hospitalised need intensive care, which also does not always save the patient” he adds.

At its worst, life-threatening multi-organ damage starts in the body and this can be caused by the cytokine storm – which Dr Oksi says can be more harmful to the patient than the original viral infection.

The new study with tocilizumab could show if it’s effective in preventing inflammatory reactions triggered by Covid-19, and prevent that very damaging cytokine storm. It is just one of hundreds of drug trials currently underway around the world.