The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Tuesday called the results of the first clinical trials of a steroid to reduce deaths in seriously ill coronavirus patients “excellent news”.
“This is the first treatment to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 who require oxygen or a ventilator,” said Ghebreyesus of dexamethasone, which reduced the rate of mortality of people on respirators.
“This is excellent news and I congratulate the government of the United Kingdom, the University of Oxford and the many hospitals and patients in the United Kingdom who have contributed to this vital scientific breakthrough,” he said in a statement.
Currently 50% of COVID-19 patients who need a ventilator do not survive, according to BBC News.
Dexamethasone, which has been used since the 1960s as an anti-inflammatory for patients with arthritis and asthma, is inexpensive and widely available.
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Researchers at the University of Oxford said the drug also reduced the number of deaths from patients with coronavirus on oxygen by a fifth. The results did not show improvement in people with a milder form of the disease.
“Dexamethasone is the first drug to improve survival in COVID-19,” said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford and chief investigator of the trial, in a statement. “The survival benefit is clear and significant in patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment. ”
The results have not yet been published or peer reviewed.
WHO said it looks forward to a full analysis of the outcome data.
“Assuming that when it goes through peer review, it stands – and these are well-established researchers – it’s a huge breakthrough, a major breakthrough,” said pulmonologist and associate professor Dr. Sam Parnia of Medicine at New York University, according to the New York Times. “I can’t stress how important it could be. ”
Horby said dexamethasone would become the norm for critically ill COVID-19 patients in the UK.
The results are part of the world’s largest clinical trial of existing drugs to treat the virus.
Researchers said 5,000 lives could have been saved in the UK if dexamethasone had been used since the start of the pandemic, the BBC reported.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the results “a remarkable British scientific achievement”.
The only other drug that has been clinically shown to benefit patients with coronaviruses is remdesivir, a limited-availability Ebola drug that reduces the length of the virus. The results of the trials have not shown that it can reduce mortality, according to the BBC.
The news comes as cases have increased in several states as businesses begin to reopen.
“When I watch TV and see photos of people who congregate in bars when their location indicates that they shouldn’t be doing this, it’s very risky,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
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The White House said the increase in the number of cases was due to an increase in testing, but Fauci, who said he has not spoken to President Trump for weeks, told the Journal in some states that “this cannot be explained by an increase in tests. “