A British coronavirus patient has become the first in the country to be given an arthritis drug, in the hope it will prevent his immune system going into life-threatening overdrive.
Farhan Hamid, 41, who is in intensive care at Manchester Royal Infirmary, received an infusion of otilimab in a trial to see if it could stop the devastating immune system damage which occurs in the most serious cases.
Otilimab works by blocking a chemical which sparks inflammation in the lungs , preventing enough oxygen from flowing round the body.
In arthritis , the drug also prevents the immune system from attacking the body's own cells, causing irreversible damage.
Intensive care and anaesthesia consultant Andy Martin, of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, who is leading the trial, said: "The patients eligible to take part in this study are those experiencing very severe lung difficulties due to Covid-19 infection and are receiving oxygen or ventilator support.
"We are conducting this study to see whether otilimab – which is under investigation as a potential treatment for rheumatoid arthritis – could also potentially ease the effect of coronavirus on the lungs, dampening the impact of the virus on the immune system."
The trial is being funded by otilimab producer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the UK-based pharmaceutical company and it is hoped that 800 people will soon be recruited around the globe.
It is one of several that have been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care.
Dr Tim Felton (see picture below), a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester and clinical lead for all Covid-19-related studies at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, said: "The primary end point of this study is that participants are alive and free of lung failure after 28 days, so this research is potentially life-saving.”
Christopher Corsico, senior vice president development at GSK, said: "We know that some Covid-19 patients experience an overreaction of their immune system – sometimes referred to as cytokine storm – which can lead to hospitalisation or death.
"We believe that otilimab might be able to help counter or calm this process.
"We are continuing to work hard to find solutions to address the pandemic, including exploring potential treatment options for Covid-19 patients,” he added.
The results from the study are expected in the first half of 2021.
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