A hyperinflammatory syndrome (HIS) may cause a life-threatening acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. A prospective series of 100 consecutive patients admitted to the Spedali Civili University Hospital in Brescia (Italy) between March 9th and March 20th with confirmed COVID-19 pneumonia and ARDS requiring ventilatory support was analyzed to determine whether intravenous administration of tocilizumab (TCZ), a monoclonal antibody that targets the interleukin 6 (IL-6) receptor, was associated with improved outcome. Tocilizumab was administered at a dosage of 8 mg/kg by two consecutive intravenous infusions 12 h apart. A third infusion was optional based on clinical response. The outcome measure was an improvement in acute respiratory failure assessed by means of the Brescia COVID Respiratory Severity Score (BCRSS 0 to 8, with higher scores indicating higher severity) at 24-72 h and 10 days after tocilizumab administration. Out of 100 treated patients (88 M, 12 F; median age: 62 years), 43 received TCZ in the intensive care unit (ICU), while 57 in the general ward as no ICU beds were available. Of these 57 patients, 37 (65%) improved and suspended noninvasive ventilation (NIV) (median BCRSS: 1 [IQR 0-2]), 7 (12%) patients remained stable in NIV, and 13 (23%) patients worsened (10 died, 3 were admitted to ICU). Of the 43 patients treated in the ICU, 32 (74%) improved (17 of them were taken off the ventilator and were discharged to the ward), 1 (2%) remained stable (BCRSS: 5) and 10 (24%) died (all of them had BCRSS≥7 before TCZ). Overall at 10 days, the respiratory condition was improved or stabilized in 77 (77%) patients, of whom 61 showed a significant clearing of diffuse bilateral opacities on chest x-ray and 15 were discharged from the hospital. Respiratory condition worsened in 23 (23%) patients, of whom 20 (20%) died. All the patients presented with lymphopenia and high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), fibrinogen, ferritin and IL-6 indicating a HIS. During the 10-day follow-up, three cases of severe adverse events were recorded: two patients developed septic shock and died, one had gastrointestinal perforation requiring urgent surgery and was alive at day 10. In conclusion, our series showed that COVID-19 pneumonia with ARDS was characterized by HIS. The response to TCZ was rapid, sustained, and associated with significant clinical improvement.
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