Systematic review and meta-analysis of tocilizumab therapy versus standard of care in over 15,000 covid-19 pneumonia patients during the first eight months of the pandemic

Naim Mahroum, Abdulla Watad, Charlie Bridgewood, Muhammad Mansour, Ahmad Nasr, Amr Hussein, Rola Khamisy-Farah, Raymond Farah, Omer Gendelman, Merav Lidar, Yehuda Shoenfeld, Howard Amital, Jude Dzevela Kong, Jianhong Wu, Nicola Luigi Bragazzi, Dennis McGonagle

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9 Scopus citations


Background. Tocilizumab is an anti-IL-6 therapy widely adopted in the management of the so-called “cytokine storm” related to SARS-CoV-2 virus infection, but its effectiveness, use in relation to concomitant corticosteroid therapy and safety were unproven despite widespread use in numerous studies, mostly open label at the start of the pandemic. Methods: We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of case-control studies utilising tocilizumab in COVID-19 on different databases (PubMed/MEDLINE/Scopus) and preprint servers (medRxiv and SSRN) from in-ception until 20 July 2020 (PROSPERO CRD42020195690). Subgroup analyses and meta-regressions were performed. The impact of tocilizumab and concomitant corticosteroid therapy or tocilizumab alone versus standard of care (SOC) on the death rate, need for mechanical ventilation, ICU admission and bacterial infections were assessed. Results. Thirty-nine studies with 15,531 patients (3657 cases versus 11,874 controls) were identified. Unadjusted estimates (n = 28) failed to demonstrate a protective effect of tocilizumab on survival (OR 0.74 ([95%CI 0.55–1.01], p = 0.057), mechanical ventilation prevention (OR 2.21 [95%CI 0.53–9.23], p = 0.277) or prevention of ICU admission (OR 3.79 [95%CI 0.38–37.34], p = 0.254). Considering studies with adjusted, estimated, tocilizumab use was associated with mortality rate reduction (HR 0.50 ([95%CI 0.38–0.64], p < 0.001) and prevention of ICU admission (OR 0.16 ([95%CI 0.06–0.43], p < 0.001). Tocilizumab with concomitant steroid use versus SOC was protective with an OR of 0.49 ([95%CI 0.36–0.65], p < 0.05) as was tocilizumab alone versus SOC with an OR of 0.59 ([95%CI 0.34–1.00], p < 0.001). Risk of infection increased (2.36 [95%CI 1.001–5.54], p = 0.050; based on unadjusted estimates). Conclusion: Despite the heterogeneity of in-cluded studies and large number of preprint articles, our findings from the first eight of the pandemic in over 15,000 COVID-19 cases suggested an incremental efficacy of tocilizumab in severe COVID-19 that were confirmed by subsequent meta-analyses of large randomized trials of tocili-zumab. This suggests that analysis of case-control studies and pre-print server data in the early stages of a pandemic appeared robust for supporting incremental benefits and lack of major therapeutic toxicity of tocilizumab for severe COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9149
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number17
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
J.D.K.: J.W., and N.L.B. are partially supported by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) rapid research program.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • COVID-19
  • Systematic review and meta-analysis
  • Tocilizumab


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