Outcomes in patients with severe COVID-19 disease treated with tocilizumab: a case-controlled study

QJM. 2020 Aug 1;113(8):546-550. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcaa206.


Background: COVID-19 is an ongoing threat to society. Patients who develop the most severe forms of the disease have high mortality. The interleukin-6 inhibitor tocilizumab has the potential to improve outcomes in these patients by preventing the development of cytokine release storm.

Aims: To evaluate the outcomes of patients with severe COVID-19 disease treated with the interleukin-6 inhibitor tocilizumab.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective, case-control, single-center study in patients with severe to critical COVID-19 disease treated with tocilizumab. Disease severity was defined based on the amount of oxygen supplementation required. The primary endpoint was the overall mortality. Secondary endpoints were mortality in non-intubated patients and mortality in intubated patients.

Results: A total of 193 patients were included in the study. Ninety-six patients received tocilizumab, while 97 served as the control group. The mean age was 60 years. Patients over 65 years represented 43% of the population. More patients in the tocilizumab group reported fever, cough and shortness of breath (83%, 80% and 96% vs. 73%, 69% and 71%, respectively). There was a non-statistically significant lower mortality in the treatment group (52% vs. 62.1%, P = 0.09). When excluding intubated patients, there was statistically significant lower mortality in patients treated with tocilizumab (6% vs. 27%, P = 0.024). Bacteremia was more common in the control group (24% vs. 13%, P = 0.43), while fungemia was similar for both (3% vs. 4%, P = 0.72).

Conclusion: Our study showed a non-statistically significant lower mortality in patients with severe to critical COVID-19 disease who received tocilizumab. When intubated patients were excluded, the use of tocilizumab was associated with lower mortality.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use*
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Coronavirus Infections / mortality
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City / epidemiology
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / mortality
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • IL6R protein, human
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Receptors, Interleukin-6
  • tocilizumab