Kenya to participate in a global clinical trial of a promising COVID-19 drug

In a study directly approved by the Ministry of health, global biotech giant Roche Pharmaceuticals will today begin clinical trials of Actemra (tocilizumab) – its drug that has demonstrated promising results on patients with severe COVID-19 illness.

The study dubbed EMPACTA – will test the effectiveness of Actemra (tocilizumab) on patients with moderate disease.

Kenyan patients who meet the study criteria will be free to participate in the trial which will be conducted at a clinical research unit at the Aga Khan University hospital in Nairobi.

The study was initiated in the US by Genentech – a subsidiary of the Roche group. Kenya has now become the second country in Africa to participate in the clinical trial of the drug after South Africa. Roche says it is targeting at least 375 enrols.

Recent findings by clinical researchers at the University of Michigan demonstrated that in a controlled study of 154 patients with severe COVID-19 illness requiring ventilation, Actemra (tocilizumab) was associated with a 45% reduction in deaths.

At the time of this publication, Kenya had recorded at least 13,771 cases of COVID-19, 238 deaths and at least 5,616 recoveries.

These numbers are alarming because they are grave underestimates considering that developing countries like Kenya tend to conduct fewer tests than most developed nations like the US.

World over, researchers are on a race against time to design a vaccine to contain the raging virus that has devasted much of the world. However, there’s still much work to be done before the ideal candidate has been identified.

Dr. Rashid A. Aman, the Chief Administrative Secretary in the Kenya Ministry of Health reckons that the COIVD-19 pandemic can only be overcome through a multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder engagement that brings together academia, research, government and the private sector.

On her part, Dr Reena Shah, Associate Professor of Medicine in Infectious Diseases, at Aga Khan hospital says that the EMPACTA study is essentially a grand stage where Kenya can contribute knowledge and experience about its capability and the outcome of patients to the international community.

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