Zurich — Swiss drugmaker Roche said on Thursday that adding its drug Actemra to Gilead Sciences’ Veklury medication, made of remdesivir, did not reduce hospital stays for patients with severe Covid-19 pneumonia.

Roche’s anti-inflammatory Actemra combined with Veklury, Gilead’s ant-iviral drug, failed to reduce hospitalisation durations in the Remdacta trial, which compared the cocktail with treatment using only Veklury and standard care, Roche said.

The trial also showed the Actemra-Veklury cocktail missed secondary targets such as reducing the likelihood a patient would need mechanical ventilation and cutting death risk.

Actemra has had uneven results in several Covid-19 trials, helping patients in some while not demonstrating a benefit in others.

Veklury, developed for treating Ebola, was the first drug approved for Covid-19 patients, though its trials have also produced conflicting conclusions on its benefits.

“Given the global impact of Covid-19 pneumonia on patients, we are disappointed that the Remdacta study did not meet its endpoints,” said Roche chief medical officer Levi Garraway. But he said the “totality of the data” regarding Actemra, including from other trials where it did succeed, showed it helps certain patients.

Roche has said the varying results were likely due to differences in patients studied, the timing of their treatments and the “endpoint”, or how success or failure is measured.

The varied findings have led to complex and sometimes differing recommendations for the medicines’ use from country to country. Germany’s AWMF association of medical societies, for instance, recommends that hospitals not use Actemra for severe Covid-19 after finding “no clear benefit”, while a US Covid-19 panel recommends Actemra for certain Covid-19 patients in hospitals or intensive care.

Actemra is approved for rheumatoid arthritis and also deployed in cancer patients whose immune systems overreact after cell therapy treatment. During 2020, Actemra was Roche’s fifth best-selling drug, with some $3bn revenue, with $600m from Covid-19 treatment.


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