Dexamethasone hailed as ‘breakthrough’ for critically ill COVID-19 patients
LONDON (UK) – In what scientists hail as a “major breakthrough”, a cheap and commonly used steroid called dexamethasone has become the first drug to demonstrate the ability to save the lives of critically ill COVID-19 patients.
Trial results announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, which is used to reduce inflammation in other diseases such as arthritis, brought down death rates by around a third among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
The preliminary results, which have not been peer-reviewed, suggest the drug should immediately be administered to patients with severe cases of the pandemic disease, said the researchers who led the trials.
Researchers said they would work to publish the full details of the trial as soon as possible and several scientists said they hope to be able to review the evidence for themselves soon.
Britain’s health ministry said the drug had been approved for use in the state-run health service and export restrictions had been introduced apart from stockpiling 200,000 courses.
“This is a (trial) 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 co-leading the trial, known as the RECOVERY trial.
“For less than 50 pounds ($63), you can treat eight patients and save a life,” he said in a briefing. One death would be prevented in every 25 COVID-19 patients on oxygen that received the drug, he estimated.
His co-lead investigator, Peter Horby, termed dexamethasone “a major breakthrough.”
There is no drug to cure COVID-19 although Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir shortened the recovery time for hospital patients.
“This blows remdesivir out of the water in terms of the effect size and the kind of effect,” said Dr Mark Wurfel, professor of medicine at the University of Washington.
Wurfel cautioned that it is important that the data be released and reviewed, “but this magnitude of improvement in mortality for a critically ill population is about the largest effect size that we’ve ever seen,” he said.
The RECOVERY trial compared outcomes of around 2,100 patients who were randomly assigned to get the steroid, with those of around 4,300 patients who did not receive it.
“We hope the data on which these results are based will be published as soon as possible so that doctors can confidently put the treatment into practice,” said Robin Ferner, honorary professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Birmingham.
Dr Thomas McGinn, deputy physician-in-chief at Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare system, told Reuters that physicians at Northwell hospitals have been using steroids on a case-by-case basis because they can suppress patients’ immune systems and possibly make them susceptible to other infections.
He said that if the data is peer-reviewed and legitimised, it could spread the use of steroids in the sickest COVID-19 patients.
Dexamethasone is currently on the US Food and Drug Administration’s list of drugs in shortage. Still several suppliers including one of the largest – Germany’s Fresenius SE – say they have the drug on the hand.
(Photos syndicated via Reuters)
This story has been edited by BH staff and is published from a syndicated field