Tocilizumab in the treatment of rapidly evolving COVID-19 pneumonia and multifaceted critical illness: A retrospective case series

Ahmed Mady, Waleed Aletreby, Basheer Abdulrahman, Mohammed Lhmdi, Alfateh M. Noor, Saleh A. Alqahtani, Ibrahim Soliman, Abdulrahman Alharthy, Dimitrios Karakitsos, Ziad A. Memish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: COVID-19 associated critical illness characterized by rapidly evolving acute respiratory failure (ARF) can develop, especially on the grounds of hyperinflammation. Aim and methods: A case-series of 61 patients admitted to our intensive care unit (ICU) between August 12 and September 12, 2020 with confirmed COVID-19 pneumonia and rapidly evolving ARF requiring oxygen support therapy and/or mechanical ventilation was retrospectively analyzed. We examined whether intravenous administration of tocilizumab, a monoclonal interleukin-6 receptor antibody, was associated with improved outcome. All patients received empiric antivirals, dexamethasone 6 mg/day for 7 days, antibiotics, and prophylactic anticoagulation. Tocilizumab was administered at a dosage of 8 mg/kg [two consecutive intravenous infusions 12 h apart]. Outcome measures such as mortality on day-14, ICU length of stay, and rate of nosocomial acquired bacterial infections were also analyzed. Results: Patients were males (88.2%) aged 51 [interquartile range (IQR): 42.5–58.75)], with admission Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) 4 score of 53 (IQR: 37.75–72.5), and had more than one comorbidity (62.3%). On admission, twenty nine patients (47.5%) were mechanically ventilated, and thirty two patients (52.5%) were receiving oxygen therapy. No serious adverse effects due to tocilizumab therapy were recorded. However, twelve patients (19.6%) developed nosocomial acquired infections. ICU length of stay was 13 (IQR: 9–17) days, and mortality on day-14 was 24.6%. Six patients were shifted to other hospitals but were followed-up. The overall mortality on day-30 was 31.1%. Non-mechanically ventilated patients had higher survival rates compared to mechanically ventilated patients although results were not significant [hazards ratio = 2.6 (95% confidence intervals: 0.9–7.7), p = 0.08]. Tocilizumab did not affect the mortality of critically ill COVID-19 patients. Conclusion: Tocilizumab could be an adjunct safe therapy in rapidly evolving COVID-19 pneumonia and associated critical illness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-424
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Medicine and Surgery
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Acute respiratory failure
  • COVID-19 pneumonia
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Tocilizumab

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

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