Giving low doses of the generic steroid drug dexamethasone to patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 reduced death rates by around a third among those with the most severe cases of infection, trial data showed on Tuesday.
The results, described as a “major breakthrough” by scientists leading the UK-led clinical trial known as RECOVERY, suggest the drug should immediately become standard care in patients treated in hospital with the pandemic disease, the researchers said.
“This is a 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,” said Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor who is co-leading the trial.
His co-lead investigator, Peter Horby, said dexamethasone – a generic steroid widely used in other diseases to reduce inflammation – is “the only drug that’s so far shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly.”
“It is a major breakthrough,” he said.
There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus which has killed more than 431,000 globally.
A cheap and widely available drug called dexamethasone can help save the lives of patients who are seriously ill with coronavirus. UK experts say the low-dose steroid treatment is a major breakthrough in the fight against the deadly virus. It cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth.
The drug is part of the world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus. Researchers estimate that if the drug had been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the coronavirus pandemic up to 5,000 lives could have been saved. Because it is cheap, it could also be of huge benefit in poorer countries struggling with high numbers of Covid-19 patients.