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Covid-19 drug trial launching at Turku hospital

About one-third of patients who are hospitalised need ICU treatment. This study aims to reduce that figure.

Suojavarustukseen pukeutunut hoitaja ottaa näytettä koronaepäillyltä potilaalta.
At first, patients who contract Covid-19 often feel relatively healthy, but their condition can quickly worsen. Image: Roni Lehti / Lehtikuva

Turku University Hospital announced that it is launching a study of a drug to treat Covid-19 patients with severe symptoms.

The drug, tocilizumab, is normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. There is some evidence suggesting the medication could help treat the inflammatory nature of coronavirus infections.

The study aims to see whether the drug could reduce the need for treating Covid patients in intensive care units. It is also known as atlizumab or Actemra.

About one-third of Covid patients requiring hospitalisation are admitted to intensive care units. Additionally, the risks of multiple organ failure increase among patients with severe cases of the disease.

Now the hospital will try to find out how effective tocilizumab could be in treating these kinds of patients, according to the hospital's chief infectious diseases physician Jarmo Oksi.

"On a voluntary basis, we will take patients who have been hospitalised for treatment of Covid-19 whose infections have been complicated by oxygenation disorder and a cytokine storm - which is a serious inflammation reaction," Oksi said in a statement.

One drug trial out of hundreds

Oxygenation disorders and cytokine storms are indications that patients will develop acute respiratory distress syndrome - also known as respiratory failure - a condition that often requires the use of a mechanical respirator. The cytokine storms can be even more dangerous to patients than the virus itself, according to Oksi.

At first, patients who contract Covid-19 often feel relatively healthy, but their condition can quickly deteriorate, he said.

"Around 20 percent of all people who get it have severe symptoms. In these patients, breathing is severely hampered and computer tomography images of the lungs show extensive changes," he explained.

Oksi said he hopes the drug trial will lead to a reduction in needing to resort to intensive care.

There are more than 300 drug studies underway around the world which aim to see whether existing medications could help treat Covid-19.

The trial is expected to launch later this summer, depending on the coronavirus situation. The research group received a permit for the study from the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea, the National Committee on Medical Research Ethics as well as the Hospital District of Southwest Finland.

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