Dexamethasone – the inexpensive steroid that quickly became a highly effective Covid therapy thanks to an extensive drug testing program developed by British scientists – has so far saved the lives of around a million people in the world. world, including 22,000 in the UK, according to NHS England.
Called Recovery, the world’s largest randomized trial of the drug Covid-19 began in March 2020 to assess the suitability of a suite of different drugs to help hospitalized Covid patients. The study has since been conducted by thousands of doctors and nurses on tens of thousands of patients in hospitals across Britain.
When Covid-19 emerged at the end of 2019, Peter Horby of the University of Oxford, an infectious disease specialist, had started working on Covid drug trials in Wuhan. But the studies have been shelved as fierce lockdown restrictions have dried up infections in China. Meanwhile, cases have started to appear in Europe.
Horby teamed up with his Oxford colleague Martin Landray, professor of medicine and epidemiology, to create Recovery. It only took them nine days from writing their first protocol to registering the first patient, a process that typically takes nine months.
Less than 100 days after the start of the program, investigators of the trial produced a stunning result – the first drug that demonstrably improved the chances of survival of Covid-19. Dexamethasone, a widely available and affordable generic steroid, has been shown to reduce the risk of death by a third in Covid patients on ventilators and by nearly a fifth in those on oxygen therapy.
“It was difficult to know how many lives would be saved because we didn’t know what the trajectory of the pandemic would be, or how much the results would be accepted,” Horby said.
The results were celebrated – and adopted around the world. Although Britain has been criticized for its initial slow response to the pandemic and failed testing programs, Recovery scientists have been generously praised for their heroic efforts to fight the disease.
“It’s clear that dexamethasone has had a big impact,” Horby noted. “A million is a lot… It’s an estimate that may well be lower or higher than that. We do not know.
The estimates touted by NHS England will be released on Tuesday, but they are said to be based on a study published in the journal Nature Communications last month, which calculated that around 12,000 lives in the UK would have been saved between July and December 2020. This stands out. would translate into approximately 650,000 lives worldwide over the same period, the researchers wrote.
However, clinical research in low- and middle-income countries with reduced access to oxygen and / or ventilators is essential to get a more accurate reading of the lives saved through the use of dexamethasone, warned. authors.
“I think it’s made clear in the document that there are a lot of assumptions, and that more work is really needed to be clear on how the benefits translate in different contexts,” Horby said.
Dr Layla McCay, policy director at the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals in England, said: ‘As science progresses at a rapid pace, this is a good lesson in how we can transform research. leading edge in rapid action to better respond to the next phase of the pandemic, including support for people with long-term symptoms of the disease. ”