Dexamethasone may be the first drug that could save lives amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a new UK study found.
The scientists who conducted the study on dexamethasone found that one in three deaths could be prevented among patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, the drug could prevent one in five deaths.
As coronavirus continues its sweep across the globe, more than 8.4 million have been reported to be infected, and 447,985 have died from the novel coronavirus as of Thursday. Researchers and health experts are racing to find treatments and drugs that provide symptomatic relief.
The drug is a steroid that reduces inflammation in the immune system. As the body fights off coronavirus, infection leads to inflammation, which can sometimes be fatal if the body goes into overdrive as it tries to tamp down the inflation.
The World Health Organization welcomed the results of the clinical trials.
“This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement. “This is great news and I congratulate the Government of the UK, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the UK who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough.”
The drug is not for people with mild symptoms, as there were no benefits for patients not receiving respiratory support, but for those who are hospital bound with severe symptoms, the drug can prove lifesaving.
Dexamesthasone is only for adults, and not for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The trial was tested as part of the world’s largest test of existing treatments, and Oxford scientists gave about 2,000 hospital patients dexamestasone and compared results to more than 4,000 patients who did not receive the drug.
The steroid was introduced in the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions, including inflammatory disorders and certain cancers, the WHO statement said. It has been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, severe asthma, allergies, and swollen and painful joints.
Because it has been around for so long, it is out of patent, meaning that more companies are able to produce it and that it is already widely available around the world.
In Britain, the drug was quickly approved for use in hospitalized patients requiring oxygen.
But on Tuesday, the National Institutes of Health warned against using steroids to treat coronavirus, like dexamethasone, citing a lack of evidence that the benefit outweighs the potential harm.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, said that a group of experts is planning to meet to evaluate the new data and decide whether recommendations for the 60-year-old drug should change.