Scientists are hailing dexamethasone, a readily-available steroid, as a breakthrough COVID-19 treatment after it was found to cut deaths by one-third in the sickest patients, according to trial results released by Oxford University researchers on June 16.
The drug, used normally as an arthritis treatment, is one of six potential COVID-19 treatments being tested through the Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy Trial, known as the “Recovery Trial.”
On Tuesday, results from a trial conducted by Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, showed that dexamethasone reduces the chance of death by up to one-third in the sickest COVID-19 patients
“It is the only drug so far shown to reduce mortality and it reduces it significantly,” said Oxford University Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and study co-lead Peter Horby.
“It is a major breakthrough, I think,” added an optimistic Horby.
The Recovery Trial’s other chief investigator, Professor Martin Landray, said that in addition to its lifesaving properties, the drug’s wide availability and low cost were also “immensely important.”
Landray said the results were so promising that dexamethasone should be added to the COVID-19 treatment regime straight away.
“This is a (trial) 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,” Landray said in an online briefing about the latest results.
“It’s going to be very hard for any drug really to replace this, given that for less than 50 pounds ($63.26), you can treat eight patients and save a life,” Landray added.
The British government has already moved to stockpile 200,000 doses of dexamethasone and will immediately begin using it to treat patients in UK hospitals. Governments around the world will undoubtedly follow suit, and researchers say they are working to publish the trial results quickly given the public health importance of its findings.
The Recovery Trial has been running since March, and is one of many racing to find effective treatments for COVID-19. In addition to low-dose dexamethasone, the trial assessed the impact of HIV treatment lopinavir-ritonavir, antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, antibiotic azithromycin, anti-inflammatory injection tocilizumab, and plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as potential disease treatments.
The researchers randomized a total of 2,104 patients to receive dexamethasone 6 mg once per day for ten days, and compared them with 4,321 patients randomized to receive standard treatment alone. Dexamethasone was found to reduce deaths by one-third in ventilated patients, and by one fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only.