'Life-saving' coronavirus drug discovered by Oxford researchers

Henrietta Strickland
June 16, 2020

The World Health Organization advises against the use of steroids early in the course of COVID-19 infection, as the drugs could hinder the immune system's attempts to clear the virus from the body, The Associated Press reported.

"This is an extremely welcome result", one study leader, Peter Horby of the University of Oxford, said in a statement. The trial included thousands of patients, 2,104 of whom were randomly assigned to receive 6 milligrams of dexamethasone per day for ten days, according to Stat News. Dexamethasone didn't appear to benefit patients whose treatment excluded respiratory intervention.

"Dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients", according to a news release from the RECOVERY trial organizers, "and by one fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only".

Steroid drugs reduce inflammation, which sometimes develops in COVID-19 patients as the immune system overreacts to fight the infection.

The RECOVERY trial organizers say they decided to make their announcement by news release because of "the public health importance of these results".

The RECOVERY trial was established as a randomised clinical trial to test a range of potential treatments for COVID-19, including low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone.

For those receiving the new treatment, the mortality rate dropped to less than 30 percent.

Researchers for the trial said earlier this month that another arm found no benefit in using hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, against COVID-19 patients. Researchers said they would publish results soon, and several independent experts said it's important to see details to know how much of a difference the drug, dexamethasone, might make and for whom.

Studies that are testing other medicines may now need to incorporate the use of the drug, which could complicate analyzing the results.

The preliminary results clearly show that dexamethasone reduces the risk of death among patients with severe respiratory complication, Martin Landray, another Oxford professor who is a chief investigator for the trial, added.

Even though the drug only helps in severe cases, "countless lives will be saved globally", said Nick Cammack of Wellcome, a British charity that supports science research.

Dexamethasone "is not a wonder pill, but it will lessen some of the nasty effects of COVID-19".

Oxford University researcher John Bell, who is leading the project, said in May that the vaccine's ability to generate "strong antibody responses is probably going to be OK", but said the verdict was still out on whether it would be a safe treatment.

RECOVERY is a United Kingdom -based pragmatic trial in which hospitalized patients are randomized to various open-label treatments: besides dexamethasone, these include tocilizumab (Actemra), convalescent plasma, azithromycin, and lopinavir/ritonavir (Kaletra); hydroxychloroquine was also being tested until enrollment in that arm was stopped earlier this month, after it failed to show any benefit.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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