New Coronavirus Drug Could Help Save Lives Of Those With Serious Cases

by Julie Scagell
New Coronavirus Drug Could Help Save Lives Of Those With Serious Cases
Matthew Horwood/Getty

The drug is available globally and has been shown to save lives

Researchers at Oxford University have found evidence that the drug dexamethasone can improve COVID-19 survival for those critically ill and requiring the use of ventilators.

The cheap, widely available steroid has been shown to reduce the number of deaths from COVID-19 by up to one-third in severely ill hospitalized patients. The study randomly assigned 2,104 patients to receive dexamethasone and compared them with 4,321 patients getting standard care. The results, which will be published soon, showed that after 28 days, it reduced deaths by 35% in patients who required ventilators and by 20% in those needing supplemental oxygen.

Research did not show the drug to help patients with less severe symptoms and should not be taken to prevent coronavirus.

“This is an extremely welcome result,” one study leader, Peter Horby of the University of Oxford, said in a statement. “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. Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”

The drug is already used to reduce inflammation in patients suffering from other conditions. Steroids help to reduce inflammation, which can develop in patients suffering from COVID-19 when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight the infection. The CDC doesn’t recommend using steroids in patients in the early stages of the virus because they have been shown to slow recovery.

The Oxford study, which is being funded by the government and private donors including the  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is the same one that showed hydroxychloroquine was not successful in the treatment or management of coronavirus. In fact, the use of the drug may make symptoms worse. The study involves more than 11,000 patients from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland who were given either standard of care or that plus one of several drug treatments to reduce the impacts of the virus.

Researchers have stated that if dexamethasone had been used to treat patients in the UK since the beginning of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved. The UK government said the NHS will make the steroid available to patients immediately.

“This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality,” Horby said. “It reduces it significantly. It’s a major breakthrough.”

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