COVID-19: Cheap pre-existing drug found to save coronavirus lives

  • A cheap and widely available steroid drug called dexamethasone has been found to help save the lives of some patients seriously ill with Covid-19.

    UK medical experts say the low-dose treatment is a major breakthrough in the fight against the deadly virus and is part of the world's biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work.

    It cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen.

    The trial is led by a team from Oxford University, in which around 2,000 hospital patients were given dexamethasone and were compared with more than 4,000 who did not receive the drug.

    Researchers added that up to 5,000 UK lives could have been saved if the drug had been used to treat patients from the beginning of the pandemic.

    The experts also said it could be of huge benefit in poorer countries with high numbers of coronavirus patients.

    About 19 out of 20 patients with coronavirus recover without being admitted to hospital, but of those who are admitted, some may need oxygen or mechanical ventilation.

    These are the high-risk patients whom dexamethasone appears to help, reports BBC News.

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    The drug is already used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions, and thus it seems to prevent damage to the body’s immune system which goes into overdrive when it tries to fight off coronavirus.

    This over-reaction by the body is called a cytokine storm and can be fatal.

    Lead researcher Prof Martin Landray said the findings suggest that for every eight patients treated on ventilators, you could save one life.

    For those patients treated with oxygen, you save one life for approximately every 20-25 treated with the drug.

    He continued: "There is a clear, clear benefit. The treatment is up to 10 days of dexamethasone and it costs about £5 per patient. So essentially it costs £35 to save a life. This is a drug that is globally available."

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    Dexamethasone does not appear to help people with milder symptoms of coronavirus - those who don't need help with their breathing, and so Prof Landray said, when appropriate, hospital patients should now be given it without delay, but people should not go out and buy it to take at home.

    The Recovery Trial which discovered the benefits of dexamethasone has been running since March and “included the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine which has subsequently been ditched amid concerns that it increases fatalities and heart problems” reports BBC News.

    An anti-viral drug called remdesivir has also been found to shorten recovery time for people with Covid-19 and is already being made available on the NHS.

    RELATED: Ulster University develops its own COVID-19 diagnostic app

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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