Dexamethasone hailed as ‘major breakthrough’ in COVID-19 treatment

Data from an ongoing trial showed Tuesday that administering low doses of dexamethasone, a generic steroid drug, to patients admitted to hospital with coronavirus reduced death rates by around a third among those with the most severe cases of infection.
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 coronavirus 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.
His co-lead investigator, Peter Horby, said dexamethasone — a generic steroid widely used in other diseases to reduce inflammation — is “the only drug that’s so far shown to reduce mortality, and it reduces it significantly.”
“It is a major breakthrough,” he said.
“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”
There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus which has killed more than 431,000 people globally.
BBC’s Health Correspondent Fergus Walsh in his analysis of the development said this is something to “celebrate” because it means patients across the world could “benefit immediately.”
“The first drug proven to cut deaths from COVID-19 is not some new, expensive medicine but an old, cheap-as-chips steroid,” Walsh said.
“The implications are so huge globally.”
The drug has been in use since the early 1960s to treat a wide range of conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
The breakthrough is a major step towards the availability of a cheap drug for the treatment of the virus.
Unlike dexamethasone, remdesivir is a new drug with limited supplies and a price has yet to be announced.
Save lives around the world
England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said Tuesday’s announcement was “the most important trial result for COVID-19 so far”, adding: “It will save lives around the world”.
The RECOVERY trial compared outcomes of around 2,100 patients who were randomly assigned to get the steroid, with those of around 4,300 patients who did not get it.
The results suggest that one death would be prevented by treatment with dexamethasone among every eight ventilated COVID-19 patients, Landray said, and one death would be prevented among every 25 COVID-19 patients that received the drug and are on oxygen.
Among patients with COVID-19 who did not require respiratory support, there was no benefit from treatment with dexamethasone.
“The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients,” Horby said.
The RECOVERY trial was launched in April as a randomised clinical trial to test a range of potential treatments for COVID-19, including low-dose dexamethasone and the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.
The hydroxychloroquine arm was halted earlier this month after Horby and Landray said results showed it was “useless” at treating COVID-19 patients.

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