Data from NHS Digital has helped researchers discover that an anti-inflammatory drug reduces the risk of death in patients with severe coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial, run by scientists at the University of Oxford, is using data from NHS Digital’s Secondary Uses Service (SUS+) and other datasets to help assess the effectiveness of a range of potential treatments for coronavirus.
Tocilizumab, an intravenous drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, was added to the RECOVERY trial in April 2020 and new results show it reduces the risk of death when given to hospitalised patients with severe coronavirus.
In the trial of 2,022 patients, 596 (29%) of the patients in the tocilizumab group died within 28 days compared with 694 (33%) patients in the usual care group. This means that for every 25 patients treated with tocilizumab, one additional life would be saved.
The study also showed that tocilizumab shortens the time until patients are discharged from hospital and reduces the need for a mechanical ventilator.
Data used to identify patients for the RECOVERY trial came from datasets held by NHS Digital and was provided through the NHS DigiTrials Health Data Research hub, which links experts with relevant data to help support clinical trials.
Jem Rashbass, Executive Director for Data and Analytical Services at NHS Digital, said: “This is a fantastic development and a great example of the lifesaving impact that research, using the data that we securely curate at NHS Digital and provide through the NHS DigiTrials service, can have.
“In supporting this trial, we are helping the Oxford-led team find new ways the NHS and health systems globally can make data-driven decisions on how best to care for COVID-19 patients.”
In June 2020, the RECOVERY trial found that the inexpensive and widely available steroid dexamethasone reduces death for patients with severe coronavirus and this is now widely used. The benefits of tocilizumab were clearly seen to be in addition to the benefits from steroids.
Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, and Joint Chief Investigator, said: “The results from the RECOVERY trial clearly show the benefits of tocilizumab and dexamethasone in tackling the worst consequences of COVID-19 – improving survival, shortening hospital stay, and reducing the need for mechanical ventilators. “Used in combination, the impact is substantial. This is good news for patients and good news for the health services that care for them in the UK and around the world. We simply would not know this if it wasn’t for the incredible support of NHS patients and staff in the most challenging of circumstances.”
Wendy Coleman, 62, received tocilizumab through the RECOVERY trial last year when she was admitted to Chesterfield Royal Hospital with severe COVID-19.
She said: “I was struggling to breathe quite badly and on the verge of being placed in an intensive care unit when I was asked if I wanted to take part in the RECOVERY trial. After I was given tocilizumab, my condition stabilised and I didn’t get any worse. Up until then, it was quite scary as I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not.’
‘I’d like to thank those who run the RECOVERY trial, besides all the staff at the Royal Hospital at Chesterfield. You never think about clinical trials, until you are in need of these treatments and then you realise what happens behind the scenes to find out if they work.”
The support of the RECOVERY trial is part of a wider set of services being developed by the NHS DigiTrials Health Data Research hub to support researchers undertaking clinical trials through the NHS.
The hub, which is run through a consortium involving NHS Digital, the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute, IBM and Microsoft, and supported by Health Data Research UK. NHS DigiTrials aims to provide data services to support clinical trials in order to reduce the time, effort and cost of developing new drugs, treatments and services, bringing benefits to patients, the public and the NHS.
The results of these trials will influence the day-to-day care of millions of future NHS patients with a wide range of conditions including heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and arthritis.