IL-6 May Help Guide Treatment Decisions for Critically Ill COVID-19 Patients

August 5, 2020

As an indicator of hyperinflammation, interleukin-6 (IL-6) may be an important biomarker to measure in critically ill COVID-19 patients in order to predict the severity of the disease.

On June 4, 2020, the Roche Elecsys® IL-6 immunoassay was granted Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for authorized labs in order to manage critically ill COVID-19 patient populations. This in-vitro diagnostic test quantitatively determines the concentration of IL-6 in human serum and plasma, and is used to help determine whether confirmed COVID-19 patients require mechanical ventilation and to evaluate the potential risks of intubation.

Labs and hospitals use the fully automated Roche cobas e analyzer to run the Elecsys® IL-6 assay with results available in approximately 18 minutes and a testing throughput of up to 300 tests per hour.1


What is IL-6?

IL-6 is a cytokine, a protein released by white blood cells upon detection of a virus or bacteria to regulate the body’s immune response. Most of the time, cytokines effectively activate immune cells to fight off the invading infection. However, in severe cases of COVID-19, this release can trigger an overreaction called a cytokine storm that can cause hyper-inflammation in the lungs and other organ systems, creating serious and possibly life-threatening downstream effects such as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

Assays that measure IL-6 are performed in the hospital setting using a simple intravenous blood draw. Elevated levels may appear during COVID-19 infection, helping doctors predict how severe the patient’s case may become and whether ventilation is indicated when evaluated in conjunction with lab tests, imaging and clinical evaluation.

Blocking the IL-6 signal transduction pathway that triggers a cytokine storm release in critically ill COVID-19 patients is being examined as a possible way to arrest the disease progression and reduce mortality.2


Other IL-6 indications

Studies have shown that not only is IL-6 useful in monitoring the progression of COVID-19 in critically ill patients, it may also be associated with COVID-19 mortality and help to predict cases of respiratory failure.

With rising numbers of COVID-19 cases threatening to overwhelm U.S. hospitals and healthcare systems, IL-6 assays can be of benefit when it comes to guiding the most effective use of ventilators and determining allocation of limited resources by helping to predict which patients may become severely ill enough to require intubation and ventilation. 



Thanks to its ability to detect hyperinflammation, the IL-6 biomarker may provide valuable management guidance through diagnostic testing for critically ill COVID-19 patients.