Photo Credit: Eitan Elhadez-Barak/TPS
Coronavirus Intensive Care Unit in Ichilov Hospital (Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center) amid the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. Tel Aviv, Oct 4, 2020.

Israel’s Ministry of Health has warned that the country faces a temporary shortage of the drug Actamra. The shortage is expected to last at least until the end of December 2021.

Actamra is used, among other things, to treat corona patients in moderate and severe conditions, as well as patients suffering from certain chronic diseases.

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The reason given is a global shortage in the production of the drug which has resulted from the current demand for its use to treat Covid patients outstripping its global supply. The drug was produced in sufficient numbers for its traditional use and the manufacturer did not anticipate the additional demand. . As a result, the company that supplies Actmara announced that it will temporarily halt the marketing of the medication in Israel.

The drug’s American manufacturer explained in a statement that, “The dramatic emergence of the COVID-19 delta variant, as well as the unexpected slowing of vaccination rates in the U.S., has led to an overwhelmingly high incidence of COVID-19 hospitalizations in certain areas of the country. This new wave of the pandemic has led to Genentech experiencing an unprecedented demand for Actemra IV — well over 400% of pre-COVID levels over the last 2 weeks alone and it continues to increase.”

Even the World Health Organization warned about the shortages of Actemra.

Sold under different brand names, Actemra is technically called Tocilizumab. It was developed as an immunosuppressive medication, intended for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a severe form of arthritis in children. Tocilizumab was jointly developed by Osaka University and Chugai, and was licensed in 2003 by Hoffmann-La Roche. The drug was only recently given approval for use in treating the Coronavirus.

This happened in the United States this past June when an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the treatment of COVID-19 was given by the FDA.

The FDA stated at the time that in clinical trials of hospitalized patients with COVID-19, Actemra in addition to the routine care patients receive for treatment of COVID-19, which included corticosteroid therapy, was shown to reduce the risk of death through 28 days of follow-up and decrease the amount of time patients remained hospitalized.

Patrizia Cavazzoni, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, stated, “Although vaccines have been successful in decreasing the number of patients with COVID-19 who require hospitalization, providing additional therapies for those who do become hospitalized is an important step in combating this pandemic.”

But it should be pointed out that this medication is not a cure for Covid, nor is it a treatment in wide use. It is a medication that has been shown to help treat people in serious conditions due to the Coronavirus. There are other drugs available on the market which are used in the same way.

The Ministry of Health said that it is making “great efforts” to find solutions to the shortage of the drug. In the coming days, detailed guidelines on the subject will be published, both to the attending physicians and to the public, in collaboration with the relevant medical associations.

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