Less than two weeks after the start of a clinical trial of tocilizumab for severe COVID-19 infection, Chinese researchers released an Exceptional Case Report in the American Society of Hematology’s Blood Advances of one myeloma patient infected “who gradually recovered after” being treated with the drug.
Although “[t]his case is the first to prove that tocilizumab [was] effective in the treatment of COVID-19 in a [myeloma] patient with obvious clinical recovery,” the authors cautioned, “randomized clinical trials are needed to determine the [drug’s] safety and efficacy.”
“While this is very good news for one patient,” said Myeloma Crowd founder and patient Jenny Ahlstrom, “it is unclear what it means for all myeloma patients who might be infected with COVID-19. Thankfully, a clinical trial is already taking place and it is an option that should be discussed with your doctor should a myeloma patient contract the virus.”
Tocilizumab (brand name Actemra), reduces high levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), which is known to cause inflammation. It is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune deficiency diseases. Based on the experience of this one patient, research is focusing on how lung inflammation can be reduced.
The drug is currently being tested to reduce cytokine release syndrome (CRS), which is the biggest obstacle to overcome, in CAR T-cell therapy for myeloma patients. CRS occurs when CAR T-cells cannot stop attacking disease targets and start to damage normal tissue.
about the author
Greg Brozeit has been engaged in myeloma patient advocacy since 1998. He began working with the Myeloma Crowd in 2015. Prior to that, he consulted with Dr. Bart Barlogie at the University of Arkansas after working with the International Myeloma Foundation for 15 years, where he inaugurated the public policy advocacy program, patient support group outreach and IMF Europe, organizing more than 100 physician and patient education programs. He earned his BA in political science from Loyola University in New Orleans and lives in northeast Ohio.