With the infamous hydroxychloroquine drug proving unusable due to health concerns, a new drug is now showing promising results. Dexamethasone is a cheap, widely available, and a well-known steroid that was recently found to have promising results on Covid-19 patients.
UK experts have determined that the drug can cut the risk of death of patients on ventilators by a third (from 40% to 28%) and for patients on oxygen – by a fifth (from 25% to 20%). Percentage-wise this may not seem too significant – it equals to one out of every eight patients on ventilators and one out of every twenty-five patients on oxygen.
However, when you consider the incredible numbers of patients (over 8 million worldwide as of mid-June), dexamethasone could have saved thousands in the UK and millions worldwide if used from the start of the pandemic.
The breakthrough discovery was made during the big trial testing Recovery. The standard use of dexamethasone is to help reduce inflammations due to other conditions such as asthma, arthritis, and certain skin conditions. It’s been in use since the 1960s. Now, it seems clear, it’s also useful against the deadly cytokine storm caused by Covid-19. The drug is given either intravenously to intensive care patients or in tablet form to less seriously ill patients.
And the other bit of good news? We have stockpiles of it. As a standard and old steroid drug, dexamethasone is widely-available. In the UK alone there are 200,000 courses of the drug stockpiled and ready for use.
This has led the British Prime Minister Brosi Johnson to say that this discovery is a genuine cause for celebrating “a remarkable British scientific achievement.” He also added that “We have taken steps to ensure we have enough supplies, even in the event of a second peak.”
Professor Chris Whitty exclaimed that “This is the most important trial result for COVID-19 so far. Significiant reduction in mortality in those requiring oxygen or ventilation from a widely available, safe, and well known drug. Many thanks to those who took part and made it happen. It will save lives around the world.”
Chief investigator Prof Peter Horby also added that “This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly. It’s a major breakthrough.”
Lead researcher Prof Martin Landray from the Nuffield Department of Population Health also lauded the positive results of dexamethasone.
“There is a clear, clear benefit,” he said. “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.”
Prof Landray also said that when appropriate, hospitals should give it to Covid-19 patients without delay.
However, experts also point out that people should NOT just go and buy it from pharmacies for personal use. Not only does dexamethasone seem to be of no help to people with milder symptoms (no cytokine storm to treat) but such steroids should always be used with professional supervision regardless.
The same Recovery Trial that proved the effectiveness of dexamethasone also disproved the supposed effectiveness of Trump’s favorite hydroxychloroquine. The trial has also shown that common antiviral drug remdesivir can shorten the recovery time for coronavirus patients. Remdesivir has also been successfully used to treat Ebola. Thankfully, that drug has been made available by the NHS and can also be found worldwide. However, unlike dexamethasone, remdesivir hasn’t been shown to reduce the death rate of patients, and it’s also a newer, more expensive, and not so widely-available drug.