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WHO prequalifies arthritis drug for severe Covid cases

The World Health Organization said Friday that it had prequalified the arthritis treatment tocilizumab for use in patients hospitalised with severe Covid-19, in a bid to increase access to the pricey drug.

The monoclonal antibody, used in anti-inflammatory drugs made by Swiss pharma giant Roche, has been shown to reduce the risk of death and also hospitalisation time in certain patients suffering from severe Covid.

WHO has, like the United States and the European Union, already recommended its use to treat severe Covid in hospital settings, AFP reports.

But it remains in short supply and is very expensive — a single dose reportedly goes for up to $600 in lower-income countries, WHO said, adding though that its prequalification should help make it more accessible.

The UN health agency said it had added three different compositions of the monoclonal antibody to its list of prequalified treatments for the pandemic disease, in a move aimed to spur more the production of more cheaper generic versions.

“The listings should pave the way for more companies coming forward to seek WHO prequalification, thereby increasing the number of quality-assured products and creating competition leading to potentially lower prices,” WHO said in a statement.

“The prequalification of these products will also facilitate low- and middle-income countries’ authorisation of them as Covid treatments,” it said.