A low-cost and widely available drug has been found to reduce the death rate by one-third among most severe Covid-19 patients, according to trial data published on Tuesday.
Dexamethasone, a generic anti-inflammatory medication, was hailed as the first life-saving drug by the University of Oxford scientists leading the coronavirus treatment testing project named “RECOVERY”.
Scientists around the world are racing against the clock to find a treatment for Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus that has sickened over 8 million and killed more than 431,000 globally. There are currently no specific treatments or vaccines for the deadly virus.
The trial gave a low dose – 6 milligrams – of the steroid to 2,104 hospitalised patients for 10 days and results were compared with 4,321 patients who did not use the drug.
Dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third for patients on ventilators and one-fifth among patients who were on supplemental oxygen, compared to those who only received usual care.
However, the drug showed no benefit to those who did not require respiratory support, which is generally to assist the more critical patients.
The findings were published through a statement on Tuesday. There was no mention of peer review.
The Oxford researchers said they are “now working to publish the full details as soon as possible”, but are calling for the drug to become the “standard of care” in patients requiring oxygen treatment.
“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,” said Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford and one of the chief investigators for the trial.
Martin Landray, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Oxford and also one of the chief investigators, said that the results showed the drug is the “first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide”.
“It’s going to be very hard for any drug really to replace this, given that for less than £50 [$63] you can treat eight patients and save a life,” Landray said in an online briefing.
Nick Cammack, Covid-19 therapeutics accelerator lead at UK-based research charity Wellcome Trust called for the drug to be used worldwide.
“Dexamethasone must now be rolled out and accessed by thousands of critically ill patients around the world. It is highly affordable, easy to make, can be scaled up quickly and only needs a small dosage. Any and every successful treatment against Covid-19 must be made available to everyone who needs it globally, regardless of their ability to pay,” Cammack said.
“Potentially preventing one death in every eight ventilated patients would be remarkable,” he said. “While this study suggests dexamethasone only benefits severe cases, countless lives will be saved globally.”
An antiviral drug, remdesivir, is also being used in the treatment of patients in some countries with the benefits of shortening treatment time but scientists have different views about its effectiveness.
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