Approval of Itolizumab for COVID-19: A Premature Decision or Need of The Hour?

BioDrugs. 2020 Oct 13;1-7. doi: 10.1007/s40259-020-00448-5. Online ahead of print.


Itolizumab is a first-in-class anti-CD6 monoclonal antibody that was initially developed for various cancers and was later developed and approved in India for treatment of moderate to severe chronic plaque psoriasis in 2013. This drug is now being re-purposed for COVID-19. The potential utility of itolizumab in COVID-19, based on its unique mechanism of action in ameliorating cytokine release syndrome (CRS), was proposed first in Cuba with approval of a single-arm clinical trial and expanded access use. Subsequently, a phase II, open-label, randomized, placebo-controlled trial has been conducted in 30 COVID-19 patients in India after receiving regulatory permission. Based on the results, the Indian drug regulatory agency recently approved itolizumab in July 2020 for 'restricted emergency use' for the treatment of CRS in moderate to severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) due to COVID-19. This has drawn sharp criticism within the scientific community, with the approval being granted on the basis of a relatively small phase II trial, without conduct of a conventional phase III trial, and lacking availability of the claimed supportive real-world evidence in the public domain to date. In a global scenario where finding a successful treatment for COVID-19 is of utmost priority, a biologic agent has been re-purposed and approved with a successfully completed RCT, in a country where cases and mortality due to COVID-19 are growing exponentially. However, instead of welcoming the approval with open arms, many doubts are being raised. This is an issue that needs to be considered and dealt with sensitively, as well as scientifically.