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First Medicine Proven to Save COVID-19 Patients in Oxford Trial

Part of Keble College, Oxford

“It is fantastic that the first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide.”

Since COVID-19 swept across the globe, researchers have searched for vaccines and treatments that will help patients who are infected with the disease. Although vaccines are not yet ready, scientists at the University of Oxford announced a “major breakthrough” for coronavirus treatment, Reuters reported.

‘Major Breakthrough’

Results of a clinical trial exhibited positive results for dexamethasone, an inexpensive steroid, in a study of 6,400 patients, 2,104 of who received the drug. The study focused specifically on COVID-19 patients who were already receiving oxygen or on ventilation machines and found the drug has no benefits for patients without advanced respiratory problems.

For patients on ventilation machines, the researchers found dexamethasone could prevent one death in eight patients, or a reduction of one third, whereas for patients receiving oxygen, it could prevent one death in every 25 patients, a reduction of one firth, Reuters reported. 

“This is a (trial) 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,” said Martin Landray, professor and co-lead researcher at the Oxford University RECOVERY trial.

“It is fantastic that the first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide,” Landray said in a statement on the results. A round of dexamethasone (10 days of treatment) for a single patient costs less than $10, he added, making it unlikely another drug could match its cost/benefit ratio.

“It is a major breakthrough,” said Peter Horby, co-lead researcher. “Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”

England Prepared for Success

The British government already began stockpiling the drug several months ago in anticipation of the study results, said Matt Hancock, Britain’s healthy secretary. The state is wasting no time in rolling out the treatment as it planned to begin offering it as early as Tuesday afternoon, The New York Times reported. 

“Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in Covid-19,” Horby said in a statement. “The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment.”

The researchers estimated 5,000 deaths could have been prevented if dexamethasone had been used from the onset of the disease outbreak, BBC reported. Most coronavirus patients do not require hospitalization or help breathing, but for the 1 out of 20 patients who do, dexamethasone could significantly improve their chance of survival, according to the research.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson commended the researchers on their finding, calling it “a remarkable British scientific achievement.” Dexamethasone will be kept readily available in case the UK experiences a second spike of infections, he said.

Although the treatment has been proven effective, it is not recommended for infected people to take at home as it only helps with the most severe cases, BBC reported. Researchers also compared it to the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which US President Donald Trump initially advocated heavily for. The Oxford team said hydroxychloroquine was “useless,” but remdesivir, an Ebola treatment, had previously been reported to reduce the duration of symptoms by four days. 

However remdesivir has not been demonstrated to reduce mortality and is not even on the market yet, making dexamethasone a better option, BBC reported.

US Moves Cautiously

Although the British government is moving quickly to integrate the drug in its COVID-19 treatment, American doctors are exercising caution, according to The New York Times.

“It has to be published and peer reviewed, but if it is in fact true, this is a major breakthrough,” said Dr. Jose Scher, rheumatologist at New York University. But “all these communications, without the actual data, should be taken with caution.”

US doctors are waiting for more information detailing the specifics of the study, such as the severity of COVID-19 in patients and the side effects of dexamethasone. It could possibly have neurological effects, suggested Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency room physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. 

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, expressed optimism, however, at the results of the study.

“It’s going to probably have an immediate impact on what doctors are doing in the ICU setting,” the CNBC contributor said Tuesday on “Squawk Box.” He also called the trial “well-done” and said if the results can be reproduced, dexamethasone “could help save lives.”

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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