• Tocilizumab, a cure for arthritis, was shown in an observational study to improve survival among patients critically ill from COVID-19
  • The study showed 56% of ICU patients that received tocilizumab had an improved survival rate
  • The same study also showed hydroxychloroquine doesn't improve survival for hospitalized COVID-19 patients

A large observational study by Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) suggested the monoclonal antibody tocilizumab, currently used as an immunosuppressant for rheumatoid arthritis and systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis, appears to improve survival among patients critically ill from COVID-19. A confirmation of Hackensack Meridian's study will make tocilizumab (also known as atlizumab) the first medication improving survival from COVID-19.

The same observational study also confirmed clinical findings by other studies that the heavily-hyped anti-malaria treatment, hydroxychloroquine, doesn't improve survival among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Hackensack Meridian, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, said more than 3,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients were involved in the study.

The company derived these results from its new data analysis platform -- the HMH Universal Observational Database for COVID-19, or RECOVERY -- which compiles outcomes from 13 hospitals throughout New Jersey. RECOVERY enhances the understanding of COVID-19 and helps rapidly identify effective therapies.

It was developed by the outcomes division of the John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) at Hackensack University Medical Center. Heading the effort was Dr. Stuart Goldberg and Dr. Andrew Ip, who created a database to guide the analysis of more than 3,000 patients admitted to Hackensack Meridian Health facilities for urgent care.

The study, which was released Wednesday on the online platform medRxiv, revealed a trend toward improved survival among 547 intensive care unit (ICU) patients, including 134 receiving tocilizumab in the ICU. It showed 56% of ICU patients that received tocilizumab had an improved survival rate compared to 46% that didn't receive the therapy.

On the other hand, there was no significant difference in associated mortality for patients receiving any hydroxychloroquine during the hospital stay among 2,512 patients with COVID-19. Of this number, 76% received at least one dose of hydroxychloroquine while 59% received hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin.

“This groundbreaking study will help our hospitals, as well as hospitals throughout the world, better understand the effectiveness of certain forms of treatment and the impact of certain risk factors," said Dr. Robert Garrett, FACHE, and CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health.

"Our researchers’ observations that tocilizumab may improve survival among the most critically ill could alter the course of the pandemic if confirmed in randomized trials –- and Hackensack Meridian Health is participating in those randomized trials, as well.”

Dr. Ihor Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, Hackensack Meridian Health regional president, Northern Market and chief research officer, said, "The finding that tocilizumab may be a life-saving therapy in this observational study is an important application of real-world studies."

An image of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
An image of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 National Institutes of Health / Handout