A cheap and widely available steroid has been shown to reduce the death risk by one-third in severely ill COVID-19 patients.
The Oxford University trial tested a low dose of steroid dexamethasone on 2104 patients for 10 days and compared the results with 4321 patients who received the usual care for COVID-19.
The trial discovered that dexamethasone reduced the deaths by one-third in patients who were using ventilators and by one-fifth in other patients who were receiving oxygen only.
The study found that there was no benefit in those who did not require respiratory support.
Based on these results, one death would be prevented by treatment of around eight ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone.
Professor Peter Horby, one of the chief investigators for the Oxford University trial, said the results were extremely welcome.
“Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19,” he said.
“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.”
Professor Martin Landray, from Oxford University, said the results from the trial were clear.
“Dexamethasone reduces the risk of death among patients with severe respiratory complications,” he said.
“Since the appearance of COVID-19 six months ago, the search has been on for treatments that can improve survival, particularly in the sickest patients.
“It is fantastic that the first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide.”
On the back of the preliminary results, the UK government immediately authorised the National Health Service (NHS) to treat all hospitalised COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen, including those on ventilators.
The UK government has taken action to secure supplies of dexamethasone, buying additional stocks ahead of time in the event of a positive trial outcome, with enough treatment for more than 200,000 people from stockpiles alone.
The UK’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, praised the Oxford University process while also attacking the untried and much-hyped coronavirus solution praised by US president Donald Trump.
“The positive findings on dexamethasone follow the disappointing findings on hydroxychloroquine,” Prof. Van-Tam said. “Together these two results illustrate the power of properly conducted clinical trials and the inherent danger of assuming things work without robust data.
“While tempting to do otherwise, it is always better to wait for the evidence.
“On the dexamethasone findings, this is very encouraging because the signal on reduced mortality applies to many of the patients admitted to hospitals and the drug is comparatively low priced and available worldwide.”
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