Interleukin-6 blocking agents for treating COVID-19: a living systematic review

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Abstract

Background: It has been reported that people with COVID-19 and pre-existing autoantibodies against type I interferons are likely to develop an inflammatory cytokine storm responsible for severe respiratory symptoms. Since interleukin 6 (IL-6) is one of the cytokines released during this inflammatory process, IL-6 blocking agents have been used for treating people with severe COVID-19. Objectives: To update the evidence on the effectiveness and safety of IL-6 blocking agents compared to standard care alone or to a placebo for people with COVID-19. Search methods: We searched the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform, the Living OVerview of Evidence (L·OVE) platform, and the Cochrane COVID-19 Study Register to identify studies on 7 June 2022. Selection criteria: We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating IL-6 blocking agents compared to standard care alone or to placebo for people with COVID-19, regardless of disease severity. Data collection and analysis: Pairs of researchers independently conducted study selection, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. We assessed the certainty of evidence using the GRADE approach for all critical and important outcomes. In this update we amended our protocol to update the methods used for grading evidence by establishing minimal important differences for the critical outcomes. Main results: This update includes 22 additional trials, for a total of 32 trials including 12,160 randomized participants all hospitalized for COVID-19 disease. We identified a further 17 registered RCTs evaluating IL-6 blocking agents without results available as of 7 June 2022. The mean age range varied from 56 to 75 years; 66.2% (8051/12,160) of enrolled participants were men. One-third (11/32) of included trials were placebo-controlled. Twenty-two were published in peer-reviewed journals, three were reported as preprints, two trials had results posted only on registries, and results from five trials were retrieved from another meta-analysis. Eight were funded by pharmaceutical companies. Twenty-six included studies were multicenter trials; four were multinational and 22 took place in single countries. Recruitment of participants occurred between February 2020 and June 2021, with a mean enrollment duration of 21 weeks (range 1 to 54 weeks). Nineteen trials (60%) had a follow-up of 60 days or more. Disease severity ranged from mild to critical disease. The proportion of participants who were intubated at study inclusion also varied from 5% to 95%. Only six trials reported vaccination status; there were no vaccinated participants included in these trials, and 17 trials were conducted before vaccination was rolled out. We assessed a total of six treatments, each compared to placebo or standard care. Twenty trials assessed tocilizumab, nine assessed sarilumab, and two assessed clazakizumab. Only one trial was included for each of the other IL-6 blocking agents (siltuximab, olokizumab, and levilimab). Two trials assessed more than one treatment. Efficacy and safety of tocilizumab and sarilumab compared to standard care or placebo for treating COVID-19. At day (D) 28, tocilizumab and sarilumab probably result in little or no increase in clinical improvement (tocilizumab: risk ratio (RR) 1.05, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.00 to 1.11; 15 RCTs, 6116 participants; moderate-certainty evidence; sarilumab: RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.94 to 1.05; 7 RCTs, 2425 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). For clinical improvement at ≥ D60, the certainty of evidence is very low for both tocilizumab (RR 1.10, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.48; 1 RCT, 97 participants; very low-certainty evidence) and sarilumab (RR 1.22, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.63; 2 RCTs, 239 participants; very low-certainty evidence). The effect of tocilizumab on the proportion of participants with a WHO Clinical Progression Score (WHO-CPS) of level 7 or above remains uncertain at D28 (RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.12; 13 RCTs, 2117 participants; low-certainty evidence) and that for sarilumab very uncertain (RR 1.10, 95% CI 0.90 to 1.33; 5 RCTs, 886 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Tocilizumab reduces all cause-mortality at D28 compared to standard care/placebo (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.81 to 0.94; 18 RCTs, 7428 participants; high-certainty evidence). The evidence about the effect of sarilumab on this outcome is very uncertain (RR 1.06, 95% CI 0.86 to 1.30; 9 RCTs, 3305 participants; very low-certainty evidence). The evidence is uncertain for all cause-mortality at ≥ D60 for tocilizumab (RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.04; 9 RCTs, 2775 participants; low-certainty evidence) and very uncertain for sarilumab (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.07; 6 RCTs, 3379 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Tocilizumab probably results in little to no difference in the risk of adverse events (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.12; 9 RCTs, 1811 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). The evidence about adverse events for sarilumab is uncertain (RR 1.12, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.28; 4 RCT, 860 participants; low-certainty evidence). The evidence about serious adverse events is very uncertain for tocilizumab (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.07; 16 RCTs; 2974 participants; very low-certainty evidence) and uncertain for sarilumab (RR 1.09, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.21; 6 RCTs; 2936 participants; low-certainty evidence). Efficacy and safety of clazakizumab, olokizumab, siltuximab and levilimab compared to standard care or placebo for treating COVID-19. The evidence about the effects of clazakizumab, olokizumab, siltuximab, and levilimab comes from only one or two studies for each blocking agent, and is uncertain or very uncertain. Authors' conclusions: In hospitalized people with COVID-19, results show a beneficial effect of tocilizumab on all-cause mortality in the short term and probably little or no difference in the risk of adverse events compared to standard care alone or placebo. Nevertheless, both tocilizumab and sarilumab probably result in little or no increase in clinical improvement at D28. Evidence for an effect of sarilumab and the other IL-6 blocking agents on critical outcomes is uncertain or very uncertain. Most of the trials included in our review were done before the waves of different variants of concern and before vaccination was rolled out on a large scale. An additional 17 RCTs of IL-6 blocking agents are currently registered with no results yet reported. The number of pending studies and the number of participants planned is low. Consequently, we will not publish further updates of this review.

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Ghosn, L., Assi, R., Evrenoglou, T., Buckley, B. S., Henschke, N., Probyn, K., … Boutron, I. (2023, June 1). Interleukin-6 blocking agents for treating COVID-19: a living systematic review. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD013881.pub2

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