China will use a Roche Holding AG arthritis drug to treat some coronavirus patients in severe conditions, health authorities said on Wednesday, as the country seeks to build up treatment regiments to help the infected recover.
Tocilizumab, sold by the Swiss pharma giant under the trade name Actemra, can be prescribed to coronavirus patients who show serious lung damage and show elevated level of a protein called Interleukin 6, which could indicate inflammation or immunological diseases, the National Health Commission said in the latest version of its treatment guidelines published online.
Actemra can help contain inflammation related to Interleukin 6, according to Roche.
There is no clinical trial evidence yet that the drug will be effective on coronavirus patients, however. Actemra also has not received approval from China’s National Medical Product Administration to be sold for use for coronavirus infections.
Chinese researchers recently registered a 3-month clinical trial for Actemra that will recruit 188 coronavirus patients and take place from Feb. 10 to May 10, according to records shown on China’s clinical trials registration database.
Roche said on Monday it donated 14 million yuan ($2.02 million) worth of Actemra during February.
The firm said in January it expects sales and profits growth this year as demand for new drugs and more business in China offsets declines in older medicines whose patents have expired.
Chinese drug makers have been racing to develop alternatives to Roche’s treatment. Bio-Thera Solutions Ltd expects to file new drug approval for its Actemra bio-similar in 2021, and Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical Co Ltd received in 2016 regulatory approval to conduct clinical trials for its Tocilizumab candidate, company filings showed.
Biosimilars are cheaper versions of complex biotech drugs such as Actemra.