Researchers in the United Kingdom reportedly believe they have identified the first drug that might improve chances of surviving the coronavirus — a steroid called dexamethasone. The drug is cheap and is already widely available, finally hinting at some good news amid the ongoing pandemic. Researchers are now moving forward with further research on the drug.
Researchers at the University of Oxford announced on Tuesday that they have had promising results when testing the effect of dexamethasone on COVID-19. Their actual research and results will be published soon, according to a report by USA Today, but overall, their studies showed that dexamethasone may be able to reduce the mortality rate of the virus by about a third. Researchers are eager to get this information out there in the hopes that it can save the lives of people who are hospitalized right now.
"This is an extremely welcome result," said study leader Peter Horby. "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."
Horby's team performed a large, strict test, comparing the results of 2,104 patients who were given dexamethasone against the results of 4,321 who got more standard care. They administered the steroid either orally or intravenously. It showed the biggest impact on patients who needed breathing machines, reducing the death rate by 35 percent. Among those who only needed supplemental oxygen, it reduced the death rate by 20 percent, while it did not seem to help less ill patients at all.
Still, researchers are hoping this means that the drug can help those with the worst cases of COVID-19. Since it is already so easily accessible, they want to see it put into use immediately to slow the massive death toll of this pandemic. Nick Cammack of the British charity Wellcome said that "countless lives will be saved globally" if this is done right.
"Dexamethasone must now be rolled out and accessed by thousands of critically ill patients around the world," Cammack said. "It is highly affordable, easy to make, can be scaled up quickly and only needs a small dosage."
Steroids are typically used to reduce inflammation, which is vital for COVID-19, since the immune system's reaction can cause the respiratory system to swell and give patients trouble breathing. However, the World Health Organization warns that using steroids too early in illness can extend the overall time of the illness for many patients. Research continues on dexamethasone and other potential treatments for COVID-19.