Drug has shown for the first time that it improves survival in COVID-19 patients: inexpensive and readily available, this steroid, dexamethasone, reduces mortality in the most seriously ill patients, according to British researchers .
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“One in eight deaths could be prevented by this treatment in patients placed on artificial ventilation,” said in a statement the heads of the large British clinical trial Recovery.
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In the process, the British government announced that this treatment would be immediately used to treat the affected patients.
“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, already on the market, and can be used immediately to save lives around the world,” said one of the recovery leaders, Professor Peter Horby of the University of Oxford.
“The benefit in terms of survival is significant in patients who are sick enough to need oxygen, for whom dexamethasone should now become the basic treatment,” he said.
In a video posted to his Twitter account, Health Minister Matt Hancock said the UK has 200,000 ready-to-use treatments stored since March.
This drug is already used in many indications for its powerful anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects.
“This is a major step forward in the quest for new ways to treat COVID sufferers,” said in another statement Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of the NHS, the UK public health service.
Indeed, as recovery officials have pointed out, “Dexamethasone is the first drug that has been observed to improve survival in the event of COVID-19.”
Another family’s drug, the antiviral remdesivir, has been shown to be effective in speeding up recovery for patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The announcement was officially made in late April by US officials.
However, the remdesivir could not prove that it prevented deaths.
At this point, despite a multitude of avenues, no other treatment has had convincing results.
At the beginning of June, the same Recovery trial concluded that hydroxychloroquine, in which some countries place great hopes, had no beneficial effect against COVID-19.
The finding prompted US health officials to withdraw permission to use hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19, as well as a nearby drug, chloroquine, which had previously been championed by President Donald Trump, on Monday.
Finally, the Parisian hospital group AP-HP had assured at the end of April that another drug, tocilizumab, “significantly” reduced the risk of dying or going to intensive care in COVID-19 patients in serious condition. But these claims have not yet been substantiated by figures or the publication of a study.
Many experts believe that the key to treating COVID-19 will not be a single drug, but a combination of several.
One of the solutions could perhaps consist in “combining low doses of dexamethasone with other drugs which act on the inflammation, or with therapies which target the virus, like the remdesivir”, thus explained on Tuesday Dr. Stephen Griffin, of the University of Leeds.
As part of the Recovery trial, 2,104 patients received dexamethasone (orally or intravenously) for 10 days at a dose of 6 mg per day.
Compared to 4,321 other patients who had not received it, the researchers determined that the treatment reduced mortality by a third in patients on artificial ventilation.
In addition, mortality has been reduced by a fifth in less severely ill patients who received oxygen through a mask without intubating them.
On the other hand, the treatment did not show any benefit for patients who did not require respiratory assistance.
These results have not yet been published as a detailed study, but have only been the subject of a Recovery release.
After its evaluation of hydroxychloroquine, this is the second time that this major clinical trial has made it possible to reach a conclusion of importance on COVID-19. In total, more than 11,500 patients from 175 UK hospitals are participating in this trial, which evaluates several treatments.