Severe COVID-19 can manifest in rapid decompensation and respiratory failure with elevated inflammatory markers, consistent with cytokine release syndrome for which IL-6 blockade is approved treatment
We assessed effectiveness and safety of IL-6 blockade with tocilizumab in a single-center cohort of patients with COVID-19 requiring mechanical ventilation. The primary endpoint was survival probability post-intubation; secondary analyses included an ordinal illness severity scale integrating superinfections. Outcomes in patients who received tocilizumab compared to tocilizumab-untreated controls were evaluated using multivariable Cox regression with propensity score inverse probability weighting (IPTW).
154 patients were included, of whom 78 received tocilizumab and 76 did not. Median follow-up was 47 days (range 28-67). Baseline characteristics were similar between groups, although tocilizumab-treated patients were younger (mean 55 vs. 60 years), less likely to have chronic pulmonary disease (10% vs. 28%), and had lower D-dimer values at time of intubation (median 2.4 vs. 6.5 mg/dL).
In IPTW-adjusted models, tocilizumab was associated with a 45% reduction in hazard of death [hazard ratio 0.55 (95% CI 0.33, 0.90)] and improved status on the ordinal outcome scale [odds ratio per 1-level increase: 0.58 (0.36, 0.94)]. Though tocilizumab was associated with an increased proportion of patients with superinfections (54% vs. 26%; p<0.001), there was no difference in 28-day case fatality rate among tocilizumab-treated patients with versus without superinfection [22% vs. 15%; p=0.42]. Staphylococcus aureus accounted for ~50% of bacterial pneumonia.
In this cohort of mechanically ventilated COVID-19 patients, tocilizumab was associated with lower mortality despite higher superinfection occurrence