Coronavirus: 'Major breakthrough' as UK scientists find cheap steroid cuts COVID-19 deaths

June 16, 2020

Scientists in the UK have discovered a cheap and available treatment for COVID-19 patients.

They have described the use of a common steroid drug as a "major breakthrough".

The drug, dexamethasone, reduced death rates by a third for patients on ventilators, and by a fifth for patients needing oxygen.

The results have been published from the Recovery trial which is assessing a number of different possible COVID-19 treatments.

It is thought the drug could have saved between 4,000 to 5,000 lives if it had been used earlier in the pandemic.

Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor who is co-leading the trial, said: "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, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost."

His co-lead investigator, Peter Horby, said dexamethasone - a generic steroid widely used in other diseases to reduce inflammation - is "the only drug that's so far shown to reduce mortality - and it reduces it significantly".

"It is a major breakthrough," he said.

There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19.

More than 11,500 patients from 175 NHS hospitals have been enrolled on the Recovery trial since it was set up in March to test a range of potential coronavirus treatments.

In the dexamethasone study, 2,104 patients received 6mg of dexamethasone once a day by mouth or intravenous injection for 10 days.

Their outcomes were compared with a control group of 4,321 patients.

Over a 28-day period, the mortality rate among patients requiring ventilation was 41%, and for those needing oxygen it was 25%.

Among those not requiring respiratory intervention the figure was 13%.

While, the study revealed the steroid reduced deaths in ventilated patients and in people needing oxygen, there was no change in deaths among patients who did not require respiratory support.

A vaccine being developed in the UK will provide protection against the disease "for about a year", according to the drugmaker currently carrying out trials.

Human trials of the vaccine are under way, with AstraZeneca already having reached agreements to supply around two billion doses across the world.

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