Researchers running the largest randomized, controlled trial of coronavirus treatments are heralding a "major breakthrough": the first drug shown to reduce deaths from COVID-19. Dexamethasone isn't new. Rather, it's a generic steroid widely used to reduce inflammation. But it's "the only drug that's so far shown to reduce mortality [for COVID-19]—and it reduces it significantly," says Oxford University's Peter Horby, co-leader of the "Recovery" trial, per the Guardian. Around 2,100 hospitalized patients received 6mg of dexamethasone once a day for 10 days, while about 4,300 patients receive the usual care. Dexamethasone didn't appear to benefit patients whose treatment excluded respiratory intervention. But it was found to reduce deaths by one-third in ventilated patients (saving one person in eight) and by one-fifth in patients receiving oxygen only (saving one in 25).
This could have a huge impact on death rates, as half of all COVID-19 patients who require ventilators later die, per the BBC. "This is a result that shows that if patients who have COVID-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost," says trial co-leader Martin Landray, also of Oxford, per Reuters. The cost of the drugs used in the trial was a little over $6 per patient, per the BBC. And dexamethasone is "easily obtainable anywhere in the world," reports the Guardian. Landray says hospitalized patients at the greatest risk from the disease should be treated with dexamethasone immediately. In a separate study, the Recovery team found hydroxychloroquine, the drug touted and allegedly taken by President Trump, didn't benefit patients hospitalized with COVID-19. (A new drug shows promise in easing symptoms.)