Dexamethasone: UK approves NHS use of life-saving drug for severely ill coronavirus patients

Steroid reduced deaths by one-fifth in patients on oxygen feeds and by one-third in those who needed a ventilator to breathe, preliminary data suggests

Samuel Lovett
Tuesday 16 June 2020 16:33
Dexamethasone: Life-saving coronavirus drug found by Oxford scientists after 'fantastic' trial

The government has authorised the use of a drug which has been shown to reduce the risk of death by up to one-third among severely ill coronavirus patients.

Dexamethasone, a cheap anti-inflammatory drug, has been immediately approved to treat all UK hospitalised patients requiring oxygen, including those on ventilators, from today.

The move comes just hours after University of Oxford researchers announced that the drug showed the potential to reduce the mortality rate of Covid-19.

As part of the government-funded Recovery Trial, a randomised group of 2,104 patients was given 6mg of dexamethasone per day for 10 days, while another group of 4,321 was given normal treatment.

Dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-fifth in patients on oxygen feeds and by one-third in those who needed a ventilator to breathe, preliminary results showed.

Announcing NHS approval for the drug, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’m absolutely delighted that today we can announce the world’s first successful clinical trial for a treatment for Covid-19. This astounding breakthrough is testament to the incredible work being done by our scientists behind the scenes.

“From today the standard treatment for Covid-19 will include dexamethasone, helping save thousands of lives while we deal with this terrible virus.

“Guided by the science, the UK is leading the way in the global fight against coronavirus – with the best clinical trials, the best vaccine development and the best immunology research in the world.”

The government has stockpiled 200,000 courses of dexamethasone since March, and placed oral and injection solutions on a list of medicines banned for export from the UK at midnight on Tuesday.

A total of £2.1bn of public money has been pumped into the University of Oxford’s Recovery Trial, which, with more than 177,00 patients enrolled, is the largest randomised clinical study anywhere in the world.

Martin Landray, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, and one of the trial’s chief investigators, said in a statement: “These preliminary results from the Recovery Trial are very clear – dexamethasone reduces the risk of death among patients with severe respiratory complications.

“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.”

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

Nick Cammack, of the Wellcome health foundation, called for the drug to be made available to anyone who needed it around the world, whether they could afford to pay for it or not.

“It is highly affordable, easy to make, can be scaled up quickly and only needs a small dosage,” he added. “This is extremely promising news and a significant step forward, but we still have a long way to go. To end this pandemic, we still need better diagnostics to detect, medicines to treat and vaccines to prevent Covid-19.”

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