FDA Authorizes Drug for Treatment of COVID-19


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) June 24, 2021 for the drug Actemra (tocilizumab) for the treatment of hospitalized adults and pediatric patients (2 years of age and older) who are receiving systemic corticosteroids and require supplemental oxygen, non-invasive or invasive mechanical ventilation, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Actemra is not authorized for use in outpatients with COVID-19.

In clinical trials of hospitalized patients with COVID-19, Actemra in addition to the routine care patients receive for treatment of COVID-19, which included corticosteroid therapy, was shown to reduce the risk of death through 28 days of follow-up and decrease the amount of time patients remained hospitalized. The risk of patients being placed on ventilators or death through 28 days of follow-up was also decreased.

“Today’s action demonstrates the FDA’s commitment to making new therapies available through every stage of the global COVID-19 pandemic,” said Patrizia Cavazzoni, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Although vaccines have been successful in decreasing the number of patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization, providing additional therapies for those who do become hospitalized is an important step in combating this pandemic.”

Actemra is a monoclonal antibody that reduces inflammation by blocking the interleukin-6 receptor. In the case of COVID-19 infection, the immune system can become hyperactive, which may result in worsening of disease. Actemra does not directly target SARS-COV-2. Actemra is a prescription medication given by intravenous infusion that is FDA-approved for multiple inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis. Under today’s EUA, the FDA is authorizing the emergency use of Actemra for the treatment of certain hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Actemra is not approved as a treatment for COVID-19.

The issuance of an EUA is different than an FDA approval. In determining whether to issue an EUA, the FDA evaluates the totality of available scientific evidence and carefully balances any known or potential risks with any known or potential benefits of the product for use during an emergency. Based on the FDA’s review of the totality of the scientific evidence available, the agency has determined that it is reasonable to believe that Actemra may be effective in treating COVID-19 for the authorized population. And, when used to treat COVID-19 for the authorized population, the known and potential benefits of Actemra outweigh the known and potential risks for the drug. There are no adequate, approved and available alternative treatments to Actemra for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized adults and pediatric patients (2 years of age or older) who are receiving systemic corticosteroids and require supplemental oxygen, non-invasive or invasive mechanical ventilation, or ECMO.

The data supporting this EUA for Actemra are based on four clinical trials. These included one randomized, controlled, open-label, platform trial [Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY)] and three randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials (EMPACTA, COVACTA and REMDACTA). While all four clinical trials contribute to the FDA’s understanding of Actemra for the treatment of COVID-19, the most important scientific evidence on the potential benefit of Actemra for its authorized use came from the RECOVERY and EMPACTA trials.

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