SOMERSET has played its part in the fight against Covid-19, by contributing to a study which aims to reduce deaths in patients hospitalised with the virus.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has been running a trial, RECOVERY, which was the world's first to show that dexamethasone - a cheap and available steroid - reduces the risk of dying from Covid-19.

Now the trial has shown that tocilizumab - an anti-inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis treatment - reduces the risk of death, too, and researchers also found that the drug reduces the length of hospital admission, and the risk of patients requiring mechanical ventilation.

Results from the study also suggest that for Covid-19 patients who have significant inflammation and require oxygen, a combination of a systemic corticosteroid - such as dexamethasone - alongside tocilizumab reduces mortality by about one third for patients requiring simple oxygen and nearly one half for those requiring invasive mechanical ventilation.

Across the South West, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Torbay & South Devon NHS Trust, Yeovil District Hospital and Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust all contributed to the trial.

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust was specifically tasked with delivering the tocilizumab arm of the trial, as were Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust and Torbay & South Devon NHS Trust.

Professor Michael Gibbons, clinical director for the Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula (CRN SWP), said: “The recent results from the RECOVERY trial add significant and important information to our knowledge on how best to treat Covid-19.

"Every single acute hospital in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset is running this study, supported through the CRN.

"Through the study, many of our local patients have had access to tocilizumab and other treatments.

"The data has now demonstrated the benefit of tocilizumab in improving survival and reducing length of stay for patients with Covid-19 pneumonia and significant inflammation.

"This is yet another milestone in the ongoing treatment of Covid-19, and our patients have benefitted hugely from these research opportunities.

"I want to thank the organisations and staff who worked tirelessly to support the trial and all the patients who participated.”

RECOVERY is now the second NIHR-supported study to demonstrate the effectiveness of tocilizumab as a treatment for Covid-19 patients, after results from the REMAP-CAP study, also being delivered locally, last month showed that tocilizumab and a second similar drug called sarilumab have a significant impact on survival and can reduce the relative risk of death for critically ill patients in intensive care.

The latest results from RECOVERY show that a much wider cohort of Covid-19 patients can potentially benefit from tocilizumab - beyond those critically ill on mechanical ventilation.

As part of the trial, 2,022 patients nationally were randomly allocated to receive tocilizumab by intravenous injection.

Results were compared with 2,094 patients randomly allocated to usual care alone; 82 per cent of randomised patients were also taking a systemic steroid such as dexamethasone.

The study showed that for every 25 patients treated with tocilizumab, one additional life would be saved.

Benefits were seen in all subgroups, including patients requiring oxygen via a simple face mask, in addition to patients in intensive care requiring mechanical ventilators.

For patients who were not on invasive mechanical ventilation when entered into the trial, tocilizumab also significantly reduced the chance of progressing to invasive mechanical ventilation or death from 38 per cent to 33 per cent.