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Roche Drug Reduces Need for Ventilation in Covid Patients

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 9/18/2020 Thomas Mulier
a street sign hanging off the side of a building: The company logo for Roche Holding AG. © Bloomberg The company logo for Roche Holding AG.

(Bloomberg) -- Roche Holding AG said its Actemra drug reduced the need for ventilation in a third-phase clinical trial on hospitalized patients with Covid-19 and pneumonia.

The patients who got the drug were 44% less likely to progress to ventilators or die, compared with others who just got the standard care, Roche said Friday. There was no statistically significant improvement in reducing mortality in the results published Friday.

In August, results from another trial on Actemra showed that injecting the medicine didn’t help improve the health of patients or reduce deaths, although it did appear to allow people to leave the hospital earlier.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

“Roche’s Empacta trial in hospitalized Covid-19 patients showed a significant reduction in ventilator need, but not death, which is perplexing given subjects needing ventilation have a higher mortality rate.”

-- Sam Fazeli, pharma analyst

Roche Actemra Covid-19 Win Leaves Several Open Questions: React

Video: Out of 8 companies, just 3 vaccines are in final stage of trials (ABC News)


The Roche study is one of many programs to evaluate known treatments -- from antiviral drugs to plasma from recovered patients -- against the pandemic virus.

Actemra and other medicines with the same mode of action such as Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Sanofi’s Kevzara spurred hope against Covid-19 because they work on inflammation, which the new virus appears to stoke in many patients.

Unlike antivirals, these drugs won’t attack the virus directly, but instead are thought to have an effect on the immune system’s response to the pathogen. The idea is to prevent the massive reaction that chokes the lungs of the sickest patients.

Actemra’s sales surged 36% in the first half of the year, a gain fueled in part by its use in Covid-19 patients.

The test was Roche’s first with a focus on enrolling primarily minority patients. About 85% of the 389 patients were of ethnic groups including Hispanic, Native American or Black.

Roche is also studying the drug in combination with an antiviral. No health authority has yet approved Actemra for Covid-associated pneumonia.

(Updates with previous trial in third paragraph)

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