The results of a new study from China suggest that cytokine storms in COVID-19 patients may promote the death of T cells.
T cells are a critical component of the immune system’s infection-clearing ability. The study found that COVID-19 patients had low T cell counts and high levels of inflammatory cytokines like IL-6, which Actemra is a monoclonal antibody against.
The study analyzed the T cell counts of 499 COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China. The study found a negative correlation between T cell counts and cytokines. The researchers suggest that COVID-19 triggers cytokine overproduction which depletes and exhausts T cells.
The researchers found that 76% of patients had an insufficient amount of T cells and that these patients had significantly elevated levels of the cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-6 and IL-10. TNF-alpha is a known cause of T cell death.
Patients who recovered saw their cytokine levels reduce and their T cell counts improve simultaneously.
The researchers said future research into COVID-19 should focus on T cell support.
“We should pay more attention to T cell counts and their function, rather than respiratory function of patients,” said Yongwen Chen of the Third Military Medical University in China. He said that “more urgent, early intervention may be required in patients with low T lymphocyte counts.”
A recent study found that less patients with moderate or severe COVID-19 infections who were given Actemra died or required ventilators compared to patients who weren’t given Actemra.
Hundreds of patients will be given Actemra in a University of Oxford clinical trial testing the efficacy of Actemra against COVID-19.
Doctors in China reported that they had a 95% success rate in treating patients with severe COVID-19 with Actemra.
A 2017 investigation found that Actemra could be linked to an increased risk of pancreatitis, heart failure, stroke, heart attack and interstitial lung disease. Actemra’s label was updated in 2019 to warn about a risk of liver injury. The FDA said in 2018 that Actemra could be linked to pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, pulmonary hypertension and interstitial lung disease. Actemra was linked to 1.5 times the risk for heart failure and stroke by a 2016 study.
Over 3.3 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in 187 countries and territories, resulting in over 235,000 deaths. The pandemic has led to the largest global recession since the Great Depression.