WHO welcomes the initial clinical trial results in treating critically ill COVID-19 patients.
Dexamethasone is part of the world’s biggest testing existing treatments to see if it will work for coronavirus. UK experts say the low-dose steroid treatment is a major breakthrough in the fight against the deadly virus.
In the trial, led by a team from Oxford University, about 2,000 hospital patients were given dexamethasone and compared with more than 4,000 who were not.
For patients on ventilators, it cut the risk of death from 40% to 28%.
For patients needing oxygen, it cut the risk of death from 25% to 20%.
Chief Investigator Prof Peter Horby said: “This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly. It’s a major breakthrough.”
The drug has been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved, researchers say.
The UK government has 200,000 courses of the drug in its stockpile and says the NHS will make dexamethasone available to patients.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was a genuine case to celebrate “a remarkable British scientific achievement”, adding: “We have taken steps to ensure we have enough supplies, even in the event of a second peak.”
The benefit was only seen in patients who are seriously ill with COVID-19 and was not observed in patients with milder disease.
According to WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support.”
“This is great news and I congratulate the Government of the UK, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the UK who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough,” he added.
The drug is already used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions, including arthritis, asthma, and some skin conditions. It appears to help stop some of the damage that can happen when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight off coronavirus.
Dexamethasone has been listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines since 1977 in multiple formulations and is currently off-patient and affordably available in most countries.