Dexamethasone reduces COVID-19 patient deaths by one-third, study shows

Henrietta Strickland
June 17, 2020

Nurse Hans Bossan (L) checks a patient infected with COVID-19 at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Doctor Ernesto Che Guevara Public Hospital, in Marica, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, on June 6, 2020. The study enrolled more than 11,000 patients in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who were given either standard of care or that plus one of several treatments: the HIV combo drug lopinavir-ritonavir, the antibiotic azithromycin; the steroid dexamethasone, the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab, or plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 that contains antibodies to fight the virus.

They add that this could be done as soon as later on Tuesday, or on Wednesday.

It is thought the drug could have saved between 4,000 to 5,000 lives if it had been used earlier in the pandemic.

The trial revealed that dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients and by one fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only.

According to official figures, 395 mechanical ventilator beds were occupied by patients in the United Kingdom as of June 12.

Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor 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".

"It is a major breakthrough", he said.

He said: "Covid-19 is a global disease - it is fantastic that the first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide".

"It's been around for probably 60 years".

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

A total of 2,104 patients were randomised to receive 6mg dexamethasone once per day (either by mouth or by intravenous injection) for 10 days and were compared with 4,321 patients randomised to usual care alone.

Among those not requiring respiratory intervention the figure was 13%.

However, the study did not see any benefit in those patients who were in hospital with Covid-19, but whose lungs were working sufficiently well.

"This is an extremely welcome result", he said.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, said: "This is a huge breakthrough in our search for new ways to successfully treat patients with Covid, both in the United Kingdom and across the world".

The UK government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said it underlined the necessity of doing high-quality clinical trials.

"It is particularly exciting as this is an affordable, widely available medicine".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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