IL-6 Inhibitors in the Treatment of Serious COVID-19: A Promising Therapy?

Pharmaceut Med. 2020 Aug;34(4):223-231. doi: 10.1007/s40290-020-00342-z.


At present, there are no proven agents for treatment of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The available evidence has not allowed guidelines to clearly recommend any drugs outside the context of clinical trials. The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 invokes a hyperinflammatory state driven by multiple cells and mediators like interleukin (IL)-1, IL-6, IL-12, and IL-18, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), etc. Considering the proven role of cytokine dysregulation in causing this hyperinflammation in the lungs with IL-6 being a key driver, particularly in seriously ill COVID-19 patients, it is crucial to further explore selective cytokine blockade with drugs like the IL-6 inhibitors tocilizumab, sarilumab, and siltuximab. These targeted monoclonal antibodies can dampen the downstream IL-6 signaling pathways, which can lead to decreased cell proliferation, differentiation, oxidative stress, exudation, and improve clinical outcomes in patients with evident features of cytokine-driven inflammation like persistent fever, dyspnea and elevated markers. Preliminary evidence has come for tocilizumab from some small studies, and interim analysis of a randomized controlled trial; the latter also being available for sarilumab. International guidelines do include IL-6 inhibitors as one of the options available for severe or critically ill patients. There has been increased interest in evaluating these drugs with a series of clinical trials being registered and conducted in different countries. The level of investigation though perhaps needs to be further intensified as there is a need to focus on therapeutic options that can prove to be 'life-saving' as the number of COVID-19 fatalities worldwide keeps increasing alarmingly. IL-6 inhibitors could be one such treatment option, with generation of more evidence and completion of a larger number of systematic studies.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / administration & dosage
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • Betacoronavirus / immunology
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology
  • Coronavirus Infections / physiopathology
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Interleukin-6 / immunology
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / immunology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / physiopathology
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-6