Coronavirus Breakthrough: Cheap Anti-Inflammatory Dexamethasone Is ‘First Life-Saving Drug’

COVID-19 breakthrough -Photo Courtesy: The Recovery Trial

Dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available drug, can help save the lives of patients seriously ill with coronavirus COVID-19, UK experts led by a team at Oxford University have announced today. The drug works, trials show – and the drug costs about £5 ($7) for each patient.

In a major breakthrough in the fight against the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the low-dose steroid treatment cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and, cut deaths by a fifth among those on oxygen.

Experts accompanied their news of the breakthrough with a warning: people should not go out and buy the drug for home use. Dexamethasone does not appear to help people with milder symptoms of coronavirus and for those who do not need help with their breathing.

The news could also be good for event organisers if the availability of remedies help to downgrade the threat of the virus and hasten the moment the World Health Organisation (WHO) is able to declare the pandemic over.

The drug is part of the world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus. Researchers in the trials, led by a team from Oxford University, believe that up to 5,000 lives in Britain alone might have been saved if the discovery had been made sooner during the pandemic.

Remedies proven to combat COVID-19 are likely to play a significant role in lockdown-exit strategies and “new normal” guidelines around the world. The latest discovery could also be of huge benefit in poorer countries with high numbers of COVID-19 patients but lacking resources to cover any cost of potential vaccines and remedies required unless international agencies, with agreement of major Governments in the developed world, ensure universal availability and distribution.


COVID-19 breakthrough -Photo Courtesy: The Recovery Trial

The BBC reported today that the UK Government has 200,000 courses of dexamethasone in its stockpile. The National health Service will now make dexamethasone available to patients.

The drug is widely available across the world and is used as an anti-inflammatory. Trials also appear to show that Dexamethasone can stop some of the damage that can happen when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight off coronavirus. The over-reaction, a cytokine storm, can be deadly.

In the Dexamethasone trial, about 2,000 hospital patients were given the drug and the outcomes compared to more than 4,000 who were not.

  • For patients on ventilators, it cut the risk of death from 40% to 28%.
  • For patients needing oxygen, it cut the risk of death from 25% to 20%.

Chief investigator Prof Peter Horby told the BBC:

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

Lead researcher Prof Martin Landray said the findings suggested one life could be saved for every eight patients on a ventilator and every 20-25 treated with oxygen. He said:

“There is a clear, clear benefit. The treatment is up to 10 days of dexamethasone and it costs about £5 per patient. So essentially it costs £35 to save a life. This is a drug that is globally available.”

He added that, when appropriate, hospital patients should now be given it without delay.

Prof. Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England said it would save lives around the world. He tweeted:

Dexamethasone Top Of The League

Dexamethasone is the most hopeful of breakthroughs to stem from the Recovery Trial, running since March, also looked at the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which has subsequently been ditched amid concerns it increases fatalities and heart problems.

The antiviral drug remdesivir, meanwhile, which appears to shorten recovery time for people with coronavirus, is already being used to treat patients.


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