A ray of hope emerged on the horizon yesterday, as scientists announced a major breakthrough in the search for a cure of COVID-19, as researchers at Oxford University declared that they found a drug that can save a third of patients.
Dexamethasone, a steroid that has been around for decades, has become the first medicine that had proved to reduce the death rate among hospitalised patients.
A scientist who led a British trial of the drug, Professor Peter Horby, said at a media briefing on Downing Street that treating eight people with the drug could save one life at £40 (N20, 400).
It could save up to 35 per cent of patients relying on ventilators for critically ill persons and reduce the odds of death by a fifth for all patients in need of oxygen at any point in time.
Dexamethasone, first created in the 1950s, is usually used to treat ulcerative colitis, arthritis and some types of cancer. It is already licensed and proven to be safe, can be used for patients immediately and is a generic drug, meaning it can be manufactured cheaply and massively.
Results of the Recovery trial, which involved 6,000 COVID-19 patients and led by Oxford University scientists, suggested that the steroid could prevent death in one in eight ventilated coronavirus patients and one in 25 on breathing support.
It is the first trial to show a treatment provides a significant impact in reducing the risk of death.
Britain is the first country to approve dexamethasone for COVID-19 treatment, as the Department of Health said although clinical trials of the drug were ongoing in other countries including France, Iran, Spain and Argentina. If other countries approve it, they would make their own supplies.
Lead researcher, Professor Martin Landray, said dexamethasone could have saved about 5,000 lives if it were used throughout the UK’s crisis, saying, “If you were to design a drug that treats coronavirus, this would be exactly how you’d hope it works.”
He explained that the steroid prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation, a Covid-19 complication that inhibits breathing. In seriously unwell patients, the lungs become inflamed so much that they struggle to work.
The recovery trial has recruited over 11,500 Covid-19 patients from 170 NHS hospitals across the country and is the world’s biggest trial testing existing drugs.
Also, about 2,104 patients were randomised to receive 6mg of dexamethasone once a day, either by mouth or by intravenous injection for 10 days, just as their outcomes were compared with 4,321 patients given standard care, which involved painkillers and in some cases, antibiotics.