Dexamethasone Called 'Major Breakthrough' In COVID-19 Treatment, Reduces Death Rate By A Third Among Most Ill

Dexamethasone, a steroid that is cheap and widely-used, has been shown as a "major breakthrough" in the fight against the coronavirus, Reuters reported. A test of the drug showed that it reduced deaths from COVID-19 by one third when used in the treatment of the most severely-ill patients.

Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor, and his team co-led the RECOVERY trial in which the drug was tested on severely-ill patients who had been admitted to the hospital. Specifically, the team studied the results of the treatment of 6,400 hospitalized patients. Among them, 2,100 were randomly selected to receive the common steroid, while the remaining 4,300 patients did not get it.

On Tuesday, Landray's team announced that, among patients who were so severely ill they had to be placed on ventilators, the drug was successful in saving one in three lives.

"This is a 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," he said.

He went on to predict that, if the drug were put into widespread use, it could potentially save the life of one in eight patients who are so sick that they are on ventilators, and one in 25 patients who are receiving oxygen support but not on ventilators.

BERGAMO, ITALY - APRIL 7: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) A nurse attends to a COVID-19 patient that is wearing a CPAP helmet while he is moved out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Pope John XXIII Hospital on April 7, 2020 in Bergamo, Italy. The number of new COVID-19 cases appears to be decreasing in Italy, including in the province of Bergamo, one of its hardest-hit areas. But as the infection rate slows, life is still far from normal. A local newspaper, the Eco di Bergamo, estimates that the province has lost roughly 4,800 people to coronavirus - almost twice an official tally that only counts hospital deaths - and everyone here knows someone who's fallen ill: a neighbor, a family member, a relative, a friend or an acquaintance. Since February 23, the day of the first COVID-19 hospitalization, nearly 1,600 people have been hospitalized at Pope John XXIII hospital in Bergamo. Although the situation is improving, the hospital continues to see a high volume of coronavirus patients. On the busiest days during the crisis, its emergency room saw peaks of more than 100 serious coronavirus patients and used up to 146 CPAP helmets to provide non-invasive ventilation. More than 450 additional hospital beds were activated in just a few days, with 92 ICU beds devoted to COVID-19 patients. (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)
Getty Images | Marco Di Lauro

Among patients who are not sick enough to require oxygen support or even ventilators, the team's research found no benefit in using the drug, effectively ruling it out as a cure for patients who are not severely sick with COVID-19.

"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," co-lead investigator, Peter Horby, wrote.

In addition to its efficacy in treating the most-severely sick, dexamethasone has another benefit. Since it's been around for decades and is mass-produced, it's extremely cheap to make. In the U.K., eight life-saving doses of the drug can be purchased for less than £50 ($62.87).

"It's going to be very hard for any drug really to replace this," Landray said.

As of this writing, there is no cure for COVID-19, nor is there a vaccine. Indeed, multiple drugs and other therapies have shown some limited promise as treatments, both in laboratory settings and in hospitals, but a cure remains elusive. Similarly, vaccine trials are under way. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease specialist in the U.S., is hopeful that a vaccine will be ready by this winter.