Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Roche's Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Fails to Help COVID-19 Patients (Again)

By Brian Orelli, PhD – Jul 29, 2020 at 1:56PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Actemra fails another clinical trial, but there are still two ongoing late-stage studies.

The search for an effective treatment that can dampen the overactive immune systems in patients with COVID-19 continues unsuccessfully. The latest return victim: Roche's (RHHBY 0.21%) Actemra, which failed a phase 3 study in hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19-associated pneumonia.

In severe COVID-19 patients, it isn't the virus that's causing most of the serious symptoms but the overreaction of the patient's immune system that results in autoimmune damage. The same is true -- to a lesser extent -- with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, so Roche and others figured it was worth trying its rheumatoid arthritis drug, Actemra, in patients with COVID-19.

Unfortunately, the hypothesis didn't pan out. In the primary endpoint, Actemra didn't improve patients' seven-symptom category score by a statistically significant margin compared to placebo. And mortality, one of the key secondary endpoints, also didn't show an effect, with 19.7% of patients taking Actemra dying within four weeks compared to 19.4% of patients taking a placebo.

There was a difference in the time it took for patients to be ready to be discharged from the hospital -- 20 days for Actemra compared to 28 days for placebo -- but since the primary endpoint wasn't met, the data won't be considered statistically significant by regulators.

Doctors in personal protective equipment talking to an elderly patient in a bed

Image source: Getty Images.

The disappointing results follow a smaller study of Actemra by AIFA, Italy's drug-regulation agency, which found the drug didn't help patients with early stage COVID-19. Sanofi (SNY 1.57%) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals' (REGN -2.63%) Kevzara, which is in the same drug class as Actemra, also failed to show an effect in patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

Nevertheless, Roche is pressing on with two additional ongoing phase 3 studies testing Actemra in COVID-19 patients: a combination study with Gilead Sciences' remdesivir and a study at sites that treat a high proportion of underserved and minority patients.

Brian Orelli, PhD has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Gilead Sciences. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.