Is Dexamethasone the Big Breakthrough in Coronavirus Treatment?

Scientists in the UK have announced a cheap and easily available treatment for COVID-19 patients. The common steroid drug dexamethasone has been described as a “major breakthrough” in treating the coronavirus.

Professor Peter Horby of the University of Oxford who led the trial said “what we saw was really quite remarkable”.

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It’s claimed that use of dexamethasone can reduce death rates by around 35 percent for COVID-19 patients on ventilators, and by about 20% for patients needing oxygen.

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Speaking at the daily government news briefing, he said: “In three months, we have enrolled over 11,500 patients and this makes it by far the biggest clinical trial in the world.”

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It’s claimed that the majority of patients being treated in hospital for COVID-19 were likely to benefit from the use of dexamethasone, after the trial compared results with 2,000 people being treated with the drug and 4,000 without.

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Biggest breakthrough

Prime Minister Boris Johnson described dexamethasone as “the biggest breakthrough yet” in treating COVID-19. He said “I am proud of these British scientists, backed by UK government funding, who have led the first, robust clinical trial anywhere in the world to find a coronavirus treatment proven to reduce the risk of death.

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“I’m very grateful to the thousands of patients in this country who volunteered for the trials – thank you.”

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said it was “the most important trial result for COVID-19 so far.”

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However, speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted that dexamethasone was not a ‘cure’ for coronavirus, nor could it stop you contracting the infection in the first place.

He did explain that dexamethasone, a steroid which costs around £5 per dose, would now be made widely available through the NHS. The government says that it has adequate supplies of the drug, even in the event of a second coronavirus peak.

The news comes after the failure of a promising drugs including hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir, which had been trialled in the Ebola epidemic, but proved to have no useful effects in cases of coronavirus.

The findings on dexamethasone are part of a trial called Recovery which is testing a number of possible treatments for coronavirus. More than 11,500 patients from 175 NHS hospitals have taken part in the Recovery trial whcih started in March.

What is dexamethasone?

Dexamethasone (deks-a-METH-a-sone) comes under the trade names Decadron, Dexasone, Diodex, Hexadrol, or Maxidex, and is also known as dexamethasone sodium phosphate or dexamethasone acetate.

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It is classified as a glucocorticosteroid and is commonly used as an anti-inflammatory medication. Dexamethasone relieves inflammation in various parts of the body. It is used specifically to decrease swelling (edema), associated with tumours of the spine and brain, and to treat eye inflammation, to treat or prevent allergic reactions, and as treatment of certain kinds of autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, asthma and other lung conditions.

Dexamethasone is also used as treatment for a variety of cancers, such as leukaemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, and to treat nausea and vomiting associated with some chemotherapy drugs.

Dexamethasone is also used to stimulate appetite in cancer patients with severe appetite problems, and to replace steroids in conditions of adrenal insufficiency (low production of needed steroids produced by the adrenal glands).

Intravenous injection

In the Recover dexamethasone study, 2,104 patients received a 6mg dose of dexamethasone once a day by mouth or intravenous injection for 10 days, and their clinical outcomes were compared with a control group of 4,321 patients.

Over a period of 28 days, the mortality rate among patients requiring ventilation was found to be 41 percent, and for those needing oxygen it was 25 percent. For those not requiring respiratory intervention the figure was found to be 13 percent.

While the study revealed that use of dexamethasone reduced deaths in ventilated patients and in people needing oxygen, there was no change in deaths among patients who did not require respiratory support.

It’s estimated that the use of dexamethasone could have saved 4,000 to 5,000 lives if it had been used earlier in the pandemic.

Professor Martin Landray of Oxford University, who is co-leading the trial, said: “This is a result that shows that if patients who have COVID-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost.

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“It’s been around for probably 60 years.

“It costs in the order of £5… for a complete course of treatment in the NHS, and substantially less – probably less than one dollar – in other parts of the world, for example in India.”

Generic steroid

Professor Horby said that dexamethasone, a generic steroid which is widely used in other diseases to reduce inflammation, is “the only drug that’s so far shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly. It is a major breakthrough.”

At the time of writing there have been 41,700 recorded deaths from coronavirus in the UK according to the Department of Health, and there are currently no approved vaccinations.

Red more here about how scientists in the UK have announced a cheap and easily available treatment for COVID-19 patients. The common steroid drug dexamethasone has been described as a “major breakthrough” in treating the coronavirus.

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