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Results released on Tuesday by the University of Oxford say that the use of the cheap and easily available anti-inflammatory steroid dexamethasone saves the lives of people seriously afflicted by coronavirus, cuts the death risk by a third for those on ventilators, and by a fifth for those on oxygen.
The results were described by experts such as the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance as “ground-breaking”, as Imperial College London announced its human trial for a vaccine from this week.
The university said that in March, the RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) trial was established to test a range of potential treatments for Covid-19, including low-dose dexamethasone. Over 11,500 patients have been enrolled from over 175 hospitals in the UK.
A total of 2104 patients randomly received 6 mg of the drug once per day (either by mouth or by intravenous injection) for ten days and were compared with 4,321 patients randomised to usual care alone.
Among the patients who received usual care alone, 28-day mortality was highest in those who required ventilation (41%), intermediate in those patients who required oxygen only (25%), and lowest among those who did not require any respiratory intervention (13%).
It said: “Dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients…and by one fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only…There was no benefit among those patients who did not require respiratory support”.
“Based on these results, 1 death would be prevented by treatment of around 8 ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone,” the university added.
Peter Horby, professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases, said: “Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in Covid-19. 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.”
Vallance added: “This is tremendous news today from the Recovery trial showing that dexamethasone is the first drug to reduce mortality from Covid-19. It is particularly exciting as this is an inexpensive widely available medicine”.
“This is a ground-breaking development in our fight against the disease, and the speed at which researchers have progressed finding an effective treatment is truly remarkable. It shows the importance of doing high quality clinical trials and basing decisions on the results of those trials.”