Survival rates for critically ill Covid patients could be significantly improved and the time they spend in intensive care cut by up to 10 days with the use of existing arthritis drugs, clinical trial results showed on Thursday.

Roche’s Actemra (tocilizumab) and Sanofi’s Kevzara (sarilumab) – both immunosuppressive drugs – slashed the death rates of the sickest Covid patients by 8.5 percentage points, according to the findings, which are yet to be peer-reviewed.

In response to the apparent breakthrough, the UK government is making the drugs immediately available to doctors, with a spokesperson saying the move could ease pressure on the NHS, “potentially saving hundreds of lives.”

England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said the news was a “significant step forward for increasing survival of patients in intensive care with Covid-19.”

The results come from a study involving 800 critically ill Covid-19 patients, part of the international REMAP-CAP trial focused on treatments for acute lung infections.

The findings showed that deaths decreased from 35.8 percent in a control group to 27.3 percent for those given tocilizumab or sarilumab.

“That’s a big change in survival,” said Professor Anthony Gordon of Imperial College London, who co-led the study. “They are both life-saving drugs.”

During the pandemic, the steroid dexamethasone has been used to treat some critically ill coronavirus patients, while the US Food and Drug Administration has authorized some antibody drugs for patients who are not in hospital.

It also approved the antiviral drug remdesivir made by biotech firm Gilead for use on the sickest Covid patients, although the World Health Organization has said there is not enough evidence to show that it increases survival rates.

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