The first drug proven to cut deaths from COVID-19 is not some new, expensive medicine but an old, affordable steroid. That is something to celebrate because it means patients across the world could benefit immediately. That’s why the top-line results of this trial have been rushed out – because the implications are so huge globally. Dexamethasone has been used since the early 1960s to treat a wide range of conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Half of all COVID-19 patients who require a ventilator do not survive, so cutting that risk by a third would have a huge impact.
A cheap and widely available drug can help save the lives of patients seriously ill with COVID-19. The low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone is a major breakthrough in the fight against the deadly virus, UK experts say. The drug is part of the world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus. It cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth. Had the drug had been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved, researchers say. And it could be of huge benefit in poorer countries with high numbers of COVID-19 patients.
About 19 out of 20 patients with coronavirus recover without being admitted to hospital. Of those who are admitted to hospital, most also recover, but some may need oxygen or mechanical ventilation. These are the high-risk patients whom dexamethasone appears to help.
The drug is already used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions, and it appears that it helps stop some of the damage that can happen when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight off COVID-19.