First Drug To Treat Critically Ill COVID-19 Patients Found: UK Researchers

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LONDON: Dexamethasone, a cheap, widely available drug has reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalized patients, prompting researchers in England to conclude that they have the first evidence that the steroid can improve survival.

Dexamethasone reduced deaths by 35 per cent in patients who needed treatment with breathing machines and by 20 per cent in those only needing supplemental oxygen, the results were announced on Tuesday. Researchers said that they would publish the study 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. The drug was given either orally or through an IV. After 28 days, it had reduced deaths by 35 per cent in patients who needed treatment with breathing machines and by 20 per cent in those only needing supplemental oxygen. It did not appear to help less ill patients, a leading international news agency reported.

Researchers estimated that the drug would prevent one death for every eight patients treated while on breathing machines and one for every 25 patients on extra oxygen alone.

“This is an extremely welcome result,” one study leader, Peter Horby of the University of Oxford, said in a statement. "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.”

Even though the drug only helps in severe cases, “countless lives will be saved globally,” said Nick Cammack of Wellcome, a British charity that supports science research.

This is the same study that earlier this month showed the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was not working in COVID-19 patients.

The research is funded by government health agencies in the United Kingdom and private donors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as reported by the agency.

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