Anakinra treatment in critically ill COVID-19 patients: a prospective cohort study

Crit Care. 2020 Dec 10;24(1):688. doi: 10.1186/s13054-020-03364-w.


Background: A subset of critically ill COVID-19 patients develop a hyperinflammatory state. Anakinra, a recombinant interleukin-1 receptor antagonist, is known to be effective in several hyperinflammatory diseases. We investigated the effects of anakinra on inflammatory parameters and clinical outcomes in critically ill, mechanically ventilated COVID-19 patients with clinical features of hyperinflammation.

Methods: In this prospective cohort study, 21 critically ill COVID-19 patients treated with anakinra were compared to a group of standard care. Serial data of clinical inflammatory parameters and concentrations of multiple circulating cytokines were determined and aligned on start day of anakinra in the treatment group, and median start day of anakinra in the control group. Analysis was performed for day - 10 to + 10 relative to alignment day. Clinical outcomes were analyzed during 28 days. Additionally, three sensitivity analyses were performed: (1) using propensity score-matched groups, (2) selecting patients who did not receive corticosteroids, and (3) using a subset of the control group aimed to match the criteria (fever, elevated ferritin) for starting anakinra treatment.

Results: Baseline patient characteristics and clinical parameters on ICU admission were similar between groups. As a consequence of bias by indication, plasma levels of aspartate aminotransferase (ASAT) (p = 0.0002), ferritin (p = 0.009), and temperature (p = 0.001) were significantly higher in the anakinra group on alignment day. Following treatment, no relevant differences in kinetics of circulating cytokines were observed between both groups. Decreases of clinical parameters, including temperature (p = 0.03), white blood cell counts (p = 0.02), and plasma levels of ferritin (p = 0.003), procalcitonin (p = 0.001), creatinine (p = 0.01), and bilirubin (p = 0.007), were more pronounced in the anakinra group. No differences in duration of mechanical ventilation or ICU length of stay were observed between groups. Sensitivity analyses confirmed these results.

Conclusions: Anakinra is effective in reducing clinical signs of hyperinflammation in critically ill COVID-19 patients. A randomized controlled trial is warranted to draw conclusion about the effects of anakinra on clinical outcomes.

Keywords: Coronavirus disease 2019; Critical care; Cytokines; Immunity; Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein; SARS-CoV-2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / physiopathology
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Critical Illness / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin 1 Receptor Antagonist Protein / adverse effects
  • Interleukin 1 Receptor Antagonist Protein / pharmacology
  • Interleukin 1 Receptor Antagonist Protein / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Pandemics / statistics & numerical data
  • Prospective Studies
  • Receptors, Interleukin-1 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Interleukin-1 / therapeutic use
  • Statistics, Nonparametric


  • Interleukin 1 Receptor Antagonist Protein
  • Receptors, Interleukin-1