NCRx Pipeline Report: COVID-19 Edition

Erica Guetzlaff  •   March 19, 2020

It seems one can’t leave their house (or couch, these days!) without hearing the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) news. Although most of the updates are gloomy and unsettling, there is a glimmer of hope: drug trials have begun for a potential COVID-19 treatment. Read on to find the latest highlights and developments on the drug trials.

Kevzara (sarilumab): Pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and Regeneron have begun clinical trials for the use of Kevzara (sarilumab) to treat severe COVID-19. Kevzara is an interleukin 6 inhibitor (IL-6) and is thought to help stop the inflammatory cascade that occurs in the lungs of patients who are severely affected or hospitalized by COVID-19. The trial will enroll 400 people and outcomes studied will include the need for oxygen, ventilator support and reduction in mortality. Kevzara is already approved in the US to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA), so the safety and tolerability of the drug has already been established in healthy patients and in those with RA.

Actemra (tocilizumab): Genentech also reports they are in talks with the US Food and Drug Administration to rapidly accelerate trials of Actemra (tocilizumab), an IL-6 inhibitor, for COVID-19. A study has already begun in China. In addition, tocilizumab is included in the seventh updated diagnosis and treatment plan for COVID-19 issued by the China National Health Commission on March 3, 2020. Actemra is currently approved for treatment of severe cytokine release syndrome, giant cell arteritis, RA and some forms of childhood arthritis.

Remdesivir: Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral drug developed by Gilead during the Ebola outbreak, is also significant. While it didn’t meet clinical endpoints for Ebola, it has shown promise in other viral illnesses. Clinical trials for this drug have begun in Nebraska with hospitalized COVID-19 patients and are currently in progress in China as well. However, there are some safety concerns with remdesivir, including gastrointestinal symptoms and elevations in liver enzymes.

Hydroxychloroquine: There is some news coming out of France after a research professor there completed a small clinical trial with 24 patients. Results are unpublished as of now (and should be interpreted with extreme caution) but supposedly show that 75% of patients given hydroxychloroquine tested negative for the virus at day six, versus only 10% for placebo. Additionally, in patients who received azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine, the percentage who tested negative by day six rose to 95%.


  1. Sanofi and Regeneron begin global Kevzara (sarilumab) clinical trial program in patients with severe COVID 19.  [news release].  Accessed February 17, 2020.
  2. Is Genentech evaluating Actemra (tocilizumab) for the treatment of people with COVID-19? [news release]. Accessed February 17, 2020.
  3. NIH clinical trial of remdesivir to treat COVID-19 begins.  [news release].  Accessed February 17, 2020.