Researchers in England say they have the first evidence that a drug can improve COVID-19 survival: A cheap, widely available steroid called dexamethasone reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalised patients.
A steroid called dexamethasone reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalized patients. Results were announced Tuesday and researchers said they would publish them soon. The study is a large, strict test that randomly assigned 2,104 patients to get the drug and compared them with 4,321 patients getting only usual care.
The results, described as a “major breakthrough” by scientists leading the UK-led clinical trial known as RECOVERY, suggest the drug should immediately become standard care in patients treated in hospital with the pandemic disease, the researchers said.
“This is a result that shows that if patients who have COVID-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost,” said Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor who is co-leading the trial.
I can't stress just how groundbreaking this news is.
Dexamethasone – which costs just £40 per treatment – has now been shown by Oxford University to reduce deaths in ventilator-assisted patients by 33%, and in oxygen-assisted patients by 20%.
It is very widely available too. pic.twitter.com/pWjQJ8L7ng
— Jack 🇬🇧🔯 (@Conservative_JA) June 16, 2020
Here Is All That You Wanted To Know About Dexamethasone Breakthrough
The study enrolled more than 11,000 patients in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who were given either standard of care or that plus one of several treatments: the HIV combo drug lopinavir-ritonavir, the antibiotic azithromycin; the steroid dexamethasone, the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab, or plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 that contains antibodies to fight the virus. Research is continuing on the other treatments. The research is funded by government health agencies in the United Kingdom and private donors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
- The drug is part of the world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus.
- It cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth.
- Had the drug had been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved, researchers say.
- And it could be of huge benefit in poorer countries with high numbers of Covid-19 patients.
- Dexamethasone has been used since the early 1960s to treat a wide range of conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
- Half of all Covid patients who require a ventilator do not survive, so cutting that risk by a third would have a huge impact.
- The drug is given intravenously in intensive care and in tablet form for less seriously ill patients.
Steroid drugs reduce inflammation
The NIHR-supported RECOVERY trial has shown that dexamethasone, a steroid, significantly reduces the risk of dying from #COVID19 for seriously ill patients requiring respiratory intervention – a major breakthrough https://t.co/KITpXiUcMr#priorityCOVIDresearch pic.twitter.com/W1ifVSPqDM
— NIHR Research (@NIHRresearch) June 16, 2020
Steroid drugs reduce inflammation, which sometimes develops in COVID-19 patients as the immune system overreacts to fight the infection. This overreaction can prove fatal, so doctors have been testing steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs in such patients. The World Health Organization advises against using steroids earlier in the course of illness because they can slow the time until patients clear the virus.
Researchers estimated that the drug would prevent one death for every eight patients treated while on breathing machines and one for every 25 patients on extra oxygen alone.