Rethinking interleukin-6 blockade for treatment of COVID-19.Med Hypotheses. 2020 Jun 27; 144:110053.MH
Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a pleiotropic cytokine with effects in immune regulation, inflammation, and infection. The use of drugs that inhibit IL-6 biological activity has been proposed as a treatment for patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The rationale for this approach includes commitment to the concept that inflammation is a cause of lung damage in COVID-19 and belief that IL-6 is a pro-inflammatory molecule. Observational data thought to support IL-6 inhibition include elevated circulating IL-6 levels in COVID-19 patients and association between elevated IL-6 and poor clinical outcomes. However, IL-6 has significant anti-inflammatory properties, which calls into question the rationale for employing IL-6 blockade to suppress inflammation-induced tissue injury. Also, studies suggesting a beneficial role for IL-6 in the host response to infection challenge the strategy of using IL-6 blockade to treat COVID-19. In studies of recombinant IL-6 injected into human volunteers, IL-6 levels exceeding those measured in COVID-19 patients have been observed with no pulmonary adverse events or other organ damage. These observations question the role of IL-6 as a contributing factor in COVID-19. Clinical experience with IL-6 receptor antagonists such as tocilizumab demonstrates increase in severe and opportunistic infections, raising concern about using tocilizumab and similar agents to treat COVID-19. Trials of drugs to inhibit IL-6 activity in COVID-19 are ongoing and will shed light on the role of IL-6 in COVID-19 pathogenesis. However, until more information is available, providers should exercise caution in prescribing these therapies given the potential for patient harm.