Since U.K researchers first released a study in June 2020 suggesting the usefulness of affordable steroids in the treatment of COVID-19, multiple studies have sought to further explore the possibility of such an unlikely solution.
Now three new studies strongly support the use of inexpensive and easily accessible drugs to treat patients with severe COVID-19 illness. In fact, the research even suggests that these steroids are the most effective treatment known to date.
The World Health Organization responded in early September by updating its guidelines for steroids. Steroids are now officially recommended for severely or critically ill COVID-19 patients, such as those on a ventilator– but not for patients with milder forms of the disease.
What Is Dexamethasone?
Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid drug first approved by the FDA back in 1958. It’s used to mimic the corticosteroid hormones naturally produced by a person’s adrenal glands, especially when the body fails to produce a sufficient quantity.
Today, dexamethasone is available as a generic drug and under the brand name DexPak. It’s mainly prescribed to treat conditions of inflammation, including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
Since it’s been used for decades, the safety and efficacy of dexamethasone are well understood. In most cases, short courses of the drug are well tolerated with few and mild side effects.
How Can Dexamethasone Save Critically Ill COVID-19 Patients?
As the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the United Kingdom in March, Oxford University established the Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial to test a range of potential coronavirus treatments. To date, more than 11,500 patients have been enrolled from over 175 NHS hospitals in the UK.
On June 8, the dexamethasone arm of the RECOVERY trial concluded after reporting results that clearly established “whether or not the drug had a meaningful benefit.” Researchers now believe that dexamethasone may be the key to effectively treating COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms.
The dexamethasone arm of the RECOVERY trial randomly assigned 2,104 patients to receive six mg of dexamethasone once a day, for ten days, by mouth or IV. Researchers compared those patients to the results of 4,321 patients assigned to receive standard of care alone.
The data gathered over ten days showed that dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third in ventilated patients and by one-fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only. According to the Oxford University research time, “Based on these results, 1 death would have been prevented by treatment of around 8 ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone.”
Doctors are excited to embrace a new effective treatment. “These preliminary results from the RECOVERY Trial are very clear- dexamethasone reduces the risk of death among patient with severe respiratory complications,” reported Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at University of Oxford and one of the Chief Investigators in the RECOVERY trial.
Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Oxford, and one of the other Chief Investigators for the trial, echoed Landray’s statement. “Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19. This is an extremely welcome result.”
Thanks to the affordability and wide accessibility of dexamethasone, COVID-19 patients around the world, even in poorer countries, have the chance to receive life-saving treatment.
“The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients. Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide,” Horby emphasized.