A cheap, widely available steroid was shown to help severely ill coronavirus patients, Oxford University researchers said. The UK is making the drug, dexamethasone, standard for treating COVID-19.
Researchers from Oxford University hailed a "major breakthrough" in treating COVID-19 patients on Tuesday after steroid dexamethasone was proven to cut mortality rates in the most severe cases.
A study involving over 2,000 patients has shown that dexamethasone reduced from 40% to 28% the mortality rate for participants in the group that could only breathe with the help of a ventilator. Preliminary results also showed that it reduced the mortality rate from 25% to 20% for patients who were receiving oxygen without ventilators.
Researchers said that these figures equated to 1 in 8 ventilated patients surviving who would otherwise have died, and 1 in 25 in the case of oxygen-requiring patients.
"This is an extremely welcome result," said one study leader, Peter Horby. "Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide."
Only helpful for most serious cases
Horby, who works as professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at Oxford, said the steroid was "the only drug that's so far shown to reduce mortality" among severe cases. The authors said the drug would be of no use for mild cases and only helpful for those hospitalized by the virus.
When administrated by medical professionals, steroids can be used to fight inflammation — a possible and occasionally fatal overreaction of the body's immune system.
On Tuesday, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK already has 200,000 dexamethasone courses "ready to go."
He said the authorities were working with the country's National Health Service (NHS) so that "the NHS standard treatment for COVID-19 will include dexamethasone from this afternoon."
Hancock also thanked "brilliant scientists" at Oxford.
The research had been financed by the state and private donors, including the "Bill and Melinda Gates" foundation.
dj/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)