How an ‘experimental arthritis drug’ could help treat Covid-19

Otilimab given to Manchester man as UK clinical trial kicks off

The Lighthouse Lab at Alderley Park in Cheshire
(Image credit: Paul Ellis/Getty)

A new drug developed to treat rheumatoid arthritis may be given to the most seriously ill Covid-19 patients, if a clinical trial now under way in Manchester proves successful.

Farhan Hamid, 41, has become the first British coronavirus patient to receive the drug, called otilimab, as part of a study run by Manchester Royal Infirmary.

“The research aims to establish whether otilimab can treat severe lung disease developed as a result of Covid-19,” says Sky News.

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Dr Andy Martin, who is running the trial, said Hamid, from south Manchester, had been enrolled in the study because he was experiencing severe difficulty breathing. The experimental drug could “ease the effect of coronavirus on the lungs, dampening the impact of the virus on the immune system”, Martin explained.

Funded by the drug’s manufacturer, Glaxo SmithKline (GSK), the trial has “been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care”, the Daily Mirror reports.

Hospitals from all over the world, including five in the UK, will eventually take part in the tests, which will involve a total of 800 patients. Trials have already begun in the US.

“Those taking part will be allocated into two groups at random, with half receiving a one-hour, single infusion of otilimab,” says the Daily Mail. The other group will get “placebo intravenous therapy, in addition to standard care”.

Christopher Corsico of GSK said the drug is believed to help patients who are experiencing the most severe reaction to Covid-19.

“We know that some Covid-19 patients experience an overreaction of their immune system - sometimes referred to as cytokine storm - which can lead to hospitalisation or death,” he said.

“We believe that otilimab might be able to help counter or calm this process.”

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Holden Frith is The Week’s digital director. He also makes regular appearances on “The Week Unwrapped”, speaking about subjects as diverse as vaccine development and bionic bomb-sniffing locusts. He joined The Week in 2013, spending five years editing the magazine’s website. Before that, he was deputy digital editor at The Sunday Times. He has also been’s technology editor and the launch editor of Wired magazine’s UK website. Holden has worked in journalism for nearly two decades, having started his professional career while completing an English literature degree at Cambridge University. He followed that with a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. A keen photographer, he also writes travel features whenever he gets the chance.