A cheap and widely used steroid called dexamethasone has become the first drug shown to be able to save lives among Covid-19 patients in what scientists said is a “major breakthrough” in the coronavirus pandemic.
Trial results announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, which is used to reduce inflammation in other diseases such as arthritis, reduced death rates by around a third among the most severely ill of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital.
The preliminary results suggest the drug should immediately become standard care in patients with severe cases of the pandemic disease, said the researchers who led the trials. The researchers said they would work to publish the full details of the trial as soon as possible, with some scientists saying they wished to review the evidence for themselves.
Britain’s health ministry wasted no time in acting on the findings, saying the drug had been approved for use in the state-run health service, export restrictions had been introduced, and Britain had stockpiled 200,000 courses of the treatment.
“This is a (trial) result that shows that if patients who have Covid-19 and are on ventilators or 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.
“It’s going to be very hard for any drug really to replace this, given that for less than 50 pounds ($63), you can treat eight patients and save a life,” he said in an online briefing.