The low-cost and globally available steroid, Dexamethasone, has been proven to reduce the mortality rate by up to a third in patients hospitalised with coronavirus.
The trial, led by researchers from Oxford University, randomly administered the drug to 2,104 patients, while another 4,321 patients received usual treatment. Results showed that the risk of death was reduced by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen.
The results have been labelled “a major breakthrough” in the search for finding effective and successful treatments for coronavirus. Professor Chris Whitty, UK government's chief medical officer, said that this was "the most important trial result for Covid-19 so far". Researchers admit that, if the treatment had been used in the UK since the start of the pandemic, around 5,000 lives could have been saved.
What is Dexamethasone?
Dexamethasone is a mild steroid that has been available since the 1960s to treat respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. The trial administered doses of the drug during a period of up to 10 days. Chief investigator of the study, Professor Peter Horby said: "This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality - and it reduces it significantly. It's a major breakthrough." Results show that for every 8 patients on ventilators treated, one life could be saved. Another death could be prevented for every 25 patients requiring oxygen.
Dexamethasone is inexpensive and can be obtained worldwide. Findings reveal that many lives could be saved, particularly in less developed countries with high numbers of coronavirus cases. Regarding the availability of the drug, Lead Researcher Professor Martin Landray Landray added: “it costs about £5 per patient. So essentially it costs £35 to save a life.”
However, the team of researchers have warned against the public trying to buy the drug. It does not appear to be effective in treating milder symptoms, such as those without respiratory problems.
The RECOVERY Trial - short for Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy - has been ongoing since March and led by Oxford University. The world-leading research has been funded by a number of institutions including the UK Government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The trials are testing a range of established and promising treatments and more than 11,500 patients in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have enrolled across 175 NHS hospitals.