Widely available drug cuts coronavirus-related deaths in study

Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 4:37 PM EDT
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UK researchers say they have discovered the first drug to dramatically reduce coronavirus-related deaths in the sickest patients, and it's already widely available.

Dexamethasone is a low-dose steroid commonly used to treat inflammation in arthritis and asthma patients. Researchers believe dexamethasone can stop the immune system from overreacting to the coronavirus in some hospitalized patients with severe symptoms.

Professor Peter Horby is part of the University of Oxford's recovery trial. "Our jaws dropped when we saw the result, it's really a big result," he said.

Researchers found the drug saves one life for every eight patients on a ventilator and one for every 25 patients on oxygen.

"So, if we'd known this four or five months ago, we would have saved tens of thousands of lives, probably," Horby said.

The drug has been around for decades and is widely available in pharmacies in the UK and U.S. It costs less than $10.

Katherine Millbank's life was hanging on by a thread with COVID-19. Doctors had her on a ventilator when her husband gave consent for her to participate in the Oxford University trial, testing the experimental treatment for severe coronavirus.

"And I said well, that's fine. I said I'm grateful for the fact that she's got that opportunity, or that we've got that opportunity. Yeah, I feel probably there was, I did feel a little bit lucky if I'm honest," Paul Millbank said.

Katherine says dexamethasone helped her recover.

"I'm just totally grateful and will be for the rest of my life," she said.

But experts caution more research is needed as these study results have not yet been reviewed or published. Researchers found the treatment wasn't helpful for people not on respiratory support.