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China announces new drug to treat coronavirus infections

China is hoping to put a decade-old drug to use as it grapples with an outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

According to Reuters, China has approved the use of the anti-inflammation drug Actemra, manufactured by Swiss drug maker Roche, to deal with complications among those infected with the novel coronavirus.

The disease has notably killed nearly 3,000 in China.

Actemra, also known as tocilizumab, was first approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for rheumatoid arthritis in 2010.

The drug inhibits high Interleukin 6 (IL-6), a multi-functional cytokine (protein) produced by cells which can be elevated with inflammation, infection, autoimmune disorders, etc.

It has been used to treat cytokine storms in cancer patients during cell therapies from Novartis and Gilead Sciences.

To understand how the drug can help coronavirus patients, we need to understand how the virus affects the body.

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The novel coronavirus—SARS-CoV-2—attacks a host’s lungs where it kills the cilia cells.

Cilia cells are hair-like projections along the airway which help clear microbes and debris from the lungs.

Debris from dead cilia cells then fills the airway, causing pneumonia and triggering an immune response.

Although the immune system’s job is to target only the infected lung tissue, sometimes it goes into overdrive and starts killing healthy tissue.