Tocilizumab treatment in severe COVID-19: a multicenter retrospective study with matched controls

Mert A., VAHABOĞLU H., ARSLAN F., Batirel A., Saracoglu K. T., Bastug A., ...More

RHEUMATOLOGY INTERNATIONAL, vol.42, no.3, pp.457-467, 2022 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 42 Issue: 3
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Doi Number: 10.1007/s00296-021-04965-6
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, BIOSIS, CAB Abstracts, EMBASE, MEDLINE, Veterinary Science Database
  • Page Numbers: pp.457-467
  • Keywords: COVID-19, Tocilizumab, Interleukin-6 (IL-6), Macrophage activation syndrome, Cytokine storm, Pneumonia, Acute respiratory distress syndrome, BLOCKADE
  • Istanbul University Affiliated: Yes


Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) associated pneumonia may progress into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Some patients develop features of macrophage activation syndrome (MAS). Elevated levels of IL-6 were reported to be associated with severe disease, and anti-IL-6R tocilizumab has been shown to be effective in some patients. This retrospective multicenter case-control study aimed to evaluate the efficacy of tocilizumab in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, who received standard of care with or without tocilizumab. Primary outcome was the progression to intubation or death. PSMATCH (SAS) procedure was used to achieve exact propensity score (PS) matching. Data from 1289 patients were collected, and study population was reduced to 1073 based on inclusion-exclusion criteria. The composite outcome was observed more frequently in tocilizumab-users, but there was a significant imbalance between arms in all critical parameters. Primary analyses were carried out in 348 patients (174 in each arm) after exact PS matching according to gender, ferritin, and procalcitonin. Logistic regression models revealed that tocilizumab significantly reduced the intubation or death (OR 0.40, p = 0.0017). When intubation is considered alone, tocilizumab-users had > 60% reduction in odds of intubation. Multiple imputation approach, which increased the size of the matched patients up to 506, provided no significant difference between arms despite a similar trend for intubation alone group. Analysis of this retrospective cohort showed more frequent intubation or death in tocilizumab-users, but PS-matched analyses revealed significant results for supporting tocilizumab use overall in a subset of patients matched according to gender, ferritin and procalcitonin levels.