Authors: Heather Jones, Future Science Group
A clinical trial led by researchers at Oxford University (UK) has demonstrated that dexamethasone, a steroid treatment, can reduce the mortality rate for patients with severe COVID-19 who are already on oxygen support. This is just one of the drugs being tested as part of the Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY (RECOVERY) trial, which aims to identify existing treatments that may be beneficial for hospitalized patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
With a current lack of proven effective novel treatments for the disease, researchers at Oxford University have been investigating the potential for repurposing existing drugs against COVID-19 as part of the RECOVERY trial, which began in March of this year. This includes hydroxychloroquine, a drug that was recently concluded to not be beneficial.
Dexamethasone is a type of corticosteroid medication that is already used to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions including rheumatic problems, asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease. Given the tissue damage observed as a result of cytokine storms in COVID-19, dexamethasone was added to the list of drugs that could potentially be of benefit for patients experiencing inflammation as a result of the disease.
The study evaluated the outcomes for 2104 hospitalized COVID-19 patients treated with 6 mg dexamethasone once per day for 10 days, compared with 4321 who received standard care.
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Among the cohort being treated with dexamethasone, the team observed a reduction in mortality by one third among ventilated patients, and by one fifth in those receiving oxygen only, while no benefit was observed among those who did not require respiratory support.
These results suggest that for every eight patients treated on ventilators, or 25 patients requiring oxygen alone, one life could be saved through use of the drug.
“Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19,” commented Peter Horby (Oxford University), one of the chief investigators for the trial. “This is an extremely welcome result. 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.”
While the results are yet to be published, this certainly raises hopes that dexamethasone could be a viable, effective and cheap treatment option for patients with severe COVID-19.