Researchers led by Professor Peter Horby at the University of Oxford, in England say they have the first evidence that a cheap and widely available steroidal drug called dexamethasone can help save the lives of patients who are seriously ill with coronavirus. The steroid treatment reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalized patients. These results were announced on Tuesday, June 16. and researchers said they would publish them soon.
The study is a large, strict test that randomly assigned 2,104 patients to get the drug and compared them with 4,321 patients getting only usual care.
Dexamethasone was given either orally or intravenously. It was found to reduce deaths by 35% in patients who needed treatment with breathing machines and by 20 % in those only needing supplemental oxygen. It did not appear to help less ill patients. 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 agent, is on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide. This drug is already used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions, and it appears that it helps stop some of the damage that can happen when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, as it tries to fight off coronavirus. The body’s over-reaction is called cytokine storm and it can be deadly.