The risk of death among COVID-19 patients on ventilators has been cut by a third using the widely available steroid dexamethasone in a trial led by scientists from the University of Oxford.
The trial also found dexamethasone to reduce the risk of death among patients receiving oxygen only by one-fifth, although there was no benefit among those who didn't require respiratory support.
England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty said: "This is the most important trial result for COVID-19 so far.
“Significant reduction in mortality in those requiring oxygen or ventilation from a widely available, safe and well known drug. Many thanks to those who took part and made it happen. It will save lives around the world.”
Dexamethasone is already used for a variety of conditions, such as severe allergies and asthma, and can cost as little as £5.40 to treat a coronavirus patient for one day.
A total of 2,104 patients were randomised to receive dexamethasone 6mg once per day for 10 days in the latest trial, either by mouth or by intravenous injection, and were compared with 4,321 patients randomised to usual care alone.
Based on the results, one death would be prevented by dexamethasone treatment of around eight ventilated patients, or one out of around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone.
The research forms part of the RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) trial, set up in March, which is the world's biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they work for coronavirus.
‘Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19,” said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford's Nuffield Department of Medicine.
“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.”
Author: Chris Seekings
Image credit: iStock