A new study by UCD's School of Medicine has raised hope that a well known anti-arthritis drug could result in more favourable outcomes for Covid-19 patients.

Six critically ill patients were discharged from hospital within a week after being administered the drug.

The study has been published in the medical journal Respirology.

It suggests that well-known anti-arthritis drug tocilizumab administered at the right time could prevent some of the worst damage from Covid-19 and lead to significantly better outcomes for sick patients.

Professor Paddy Mallon of UCD's School of Medicine said: "The particular component that this study shows is this pre-ICU setting, where people are very sick and the use of this drug - just a single dose of this drug in the six people - have avoided the need for them to go to ICU and that's got major implications from a health service perspective."

Speaking about the findings, lead author, Dr Cormac McCarthy said the team saw improved oxygen levels and improved X-rays over time.

He said: "A rapid decline in inflammatory markers and decreased oxygen requirements was seen in the six patients following administration of tocilizumab.

"None of these patients received other concurrent immunosuppressive therapy, providing a clearer indication of the positive effect of a single dose of tocilizumab in this setting and all patients were subsequently discharged home after an average of seven days following the treatment."

"This study suggests that treatment with tocilizumab in the pre-ICU setting where patients are critically unwell may avoid the need for mechanical ventilation and may deliver a favourable outcome."

The small size of the cohort of patients, the fact that they were relatively young and the absence of a matched control group highlights the need for caution about the results.

A broader trial is under way.

There is a key inflammatory molecule produced by our immune systems called IL-6 and it can get out of hand and cause major damage to internal organs of those worst-affected by Covid-19.

The key finding of this study is that a single dose of a well-known drug can stop that damage in its tracks, and that is promising news for those who could become sick with Covid-19 in the months ahead.