Cheap drug turns out to save COVID patients’ lives
A low-cost, widely used anti-inflammatory drug improved survival in patients with Covid-19, the first treatment to show life-saving promise months into the pandemic.
Deaths among patients who needed breathing assistance were lower over a period of four weeks when they received the 60-year-old medicine dexamethasone, University of Oxford researchers said Tuesday. The study was stopped early because of its crucial findings.
Doctors and companies are scouring for treatments that can help patients survive the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 400,000 people worldwide. Gilead Sciences Inc.’s antiviral remdesivir, which has approval to treat Covid-19, has only demonstrated the ability to shorten patients’ recovery.
A number of anti-inflammatories are being studied around the world for helping coronavirus patients cope with a powerful overreaction of the immune system, sometimes called a cytokine storm.
Dexamethasone treatment reduced deaths by a third among patients on ventilators and by a fifth of those receiving oxygen only. There was no benefit among patients who didn’t need breathing support.
“While this study suggests dexamethasone only benefits severe cases, countless lives will be saved globally,” said Nick Cammack, Covid-19 therapeutics accelerator lead at Wellcome, the medical research philanthropy group.