The UK government has announced that an arthritis med, tocilizumab, will be offered to thousands more NHS patients after the drug was found to reduce the risk of death in people with COVID-19.

In the RECOVERY trial, tocilizumab significantly reduced deaths, with 29% of the patients in the tocilizumab-treated group having died within 28 days compared to 33% in the placebo group – an absolute difference of 4%.

The anti-inflammatory treatment also increased the probability of discharge alive within 28 days from 47% to 54%, with benefits observed in all patients subgroups – including patients requiring oxygen via a face mask and those requiring mechanical ventilators in an intensive care unit.

When administered with the corticosteroid dexamethasone, tocilizumab reduced the relative risk of death by 14% and reduce the time spent in hospital by five days when used for patients on oxygen.

Tocilizumab is marketed as Actemra/RoActemra by Swiss pharma company Roche, and is approved in a number of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, paediatric juvenile idiopathic arthritis (pJIA) and more.

“I want to thank all those who have played a part in generating these tremendous results – from the British scientists and researchers behind the trial, to the thousands of patients who took part across the country,” said Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock.

“We are working quickly and closely with colleagues across the health system and sector to ensure every NHS patient who needs this treatment should be able to access it – reducing further pressures on the NHS and potentially saving thousands of lives,” he added.