Researchers at Oxford University have told that an inexpensive steroid, dexamethasone, has been found to reduce the risk of death by up to one-third among severely ill hospitalized coronavirus patients with respiratory complications. The drug has been used since 1960s for treatment of several conditions, including asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
The scientists conducted a recovery test and found that the drug could benefit patients who are on ventilators or oxygen, but had no effect on patients who did not need breathing assistance.
The patients were given the drug orally or by intravenous injection. After 28 days, it reduced the mortality rate of patients requiring respiratory assistance by 35%, while that of patients requiring only additional oxygen was reduced by 20%. However, it did not seem to help patients with milder conditions.
The results of the test were announced on Tuesday, and the researchers announced that the results will be published as soon as possible. This study is a rigorous, large-scale test that randomly selected 2,104 patients to take the drug and compared them with 4,321 patients who receive only regular care.
The researchers said in a statement, “Based on these results, one death would be prevented by treatment of around eight ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone.”
Peter Horby, a study leader of the University of Oxford said in a statement:
“This is an extremely welcome result. 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. Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”
Nick Cammack of the Wellcome Health Foundation called for the drug to be made available to everyone in need around the world, whether they can afford it or not. He said in a statement:
“It is highly affordable, easy to make, can be scaled up quickly and only needs a small dosage. This is extremely promising news and a significant step forward, but we still have a long way to go. To end this pandemic, we still need better diagnostics to detect, medicines to treat and vaccines to prevent Covid-19.”
Steroids can reduce inflammation, which develops in COVID-19 patients when the immune system overreacts to fight the infection. This overreaction can be fatal, which is why doctors are testing steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs in these patients. According to The World Health Organization, steroids should not be used earlier in the course of illness as they can delay the time it takes for patients to clear the virus.
Scientists in the United Kingdom are continuing their research to find other treatments. The government health agencies in the UK and private donors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are funding these researches to help find the best cure for the COVID-19 infection.