The World Health Organisation (WHO) has prequalified a monoclonal antibody and arthritis drug named tocilizumab, for use in patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19.
Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the body’s immune system to fight off unwanted infection.
Tocilizumab is a monoclonal antibody that hinders the Interleukin-6 (IL-6) receptor which is a receptor that prompts an inflammatory response. It is found in high levels in patients critically ill with COVID-19.
The health organization in a statement said it prequalified tocilizumab, manufactured by Roche, in a bid to increase access to recommended treatments for COVID-19, making it the sixth COVID-19 treatment it has prequalified, including the three presentations (three vials, each with a different quantity) of the tocilizumab.
A prequalification provides assurances to countries that they are purchasing quality health products.
“So far, the product has been authorized mostly for the treatment of arthritis in about 120 countries worldwide,” the statement reads.
“Tocilizumab given intravenously has been shown in clinical studies to reduce death in certain patients with COVID-19 who are severely ill, are rapidly deteriorating and have increased oxygen needs, and who have a significant inflammatory response. In the largest clinical trial (RECOVERY), tocilizumab also reduced patients’ time in the hospital.
“WHO recommends tocilizumab only for patients diagnosed with severe or critical COVID-19. It should be administered by a healthcare worker in a monitored clinical setting along with the current standard of care for COVID-19, which includes oxygen, corticosteroids, and other medications.
“Currently, tocilizumab is expensive and in short supply globally. Originator company prices paid in lower-income markets are high – reportedly around USD 500-600 per single dose. With demand surging, and more manufacturers entering the market, prices could come down.
“WHO and partners are currently discussing lower prices and improved access in low- and middle-income countries with the producer, Roche.”