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Swiss healthcare company Roche has secured approval from China for its anti-inflammation drug Actemra (tocilizumab) to treat patients developing severe complications from coronavirus (Covid-19).

The latest move comes as China’s National Health Commission is searching for new ways to combat the deadly virus, which is spreading to other countries, including the US, Italy, Switzerland, France, and Germany.

In its latest treatment guidelines published online, the commission said that the biologic drug Actemra can now be used to treat coronavirus patients with severe lung damage and high IL-6 levels.

In 2010, Actemra secured approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The drug is capable of inhibiting high Interleukin 6 (IL-6) protein levels that drive some inflammatory diseases.

Researchers in China are also testing the drug in a clinical trial, expected to enrol a total of 188 patients with Covid-19 and run through 10 May.

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Roche was quoted by Reuters as saying that a third party has initiated the trial independently to explore the efficacy and safety of the drug in coronavirus patients with cytokine release syndrome (CRS).

The company is yet to receive approval from China’s National Medical Product Administration to sell Actemra for use in coronavirus infection cases.

Other drug manufacturers in the country are also in the race to develop alternatives to Roche’s treatment.

At present, no published clinical trial data is available on the safety or efficacy of Actemra against the Wuhan virus, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 people as of the end of 4 March.

The total confirmed cases have increased to 95,000, with 80,270 cases reported in Mainland China.