UK scientists have discovered a groundbreaking COVID-19 treatment that will help save thousands of lives, the government has said.
The anti-inflammatory drug, dexamethasone, which was authorised for use on the NHS yesterday, is the world’s first coronavirus treatment proven to reduce the risk of death.
A trial by Oxford University found that dexamethasone reduced deaths in COVID-19 patients on ventilation by 35% and patients on oxygen by 20%, reducing the overall 28-day mortality rate by 17%.
The low-cost steroid drug is already widely available in the UK and works to reduce inflammation. It has also been used to treat a number of different conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
Funded by the UK government, via the National Institute for Health Research and UK Research and Innovation, the Oxford University UK RECOVERY trial is the first clinical trial anywhere in the world to show a treatment provides significant impact in reducing patient mortality.
The government said it has taken action to secure supplies of dexamethasone in the UK, buying additional stocks ahead of time in the event of a positive trial outcome.
This means there is already enough treatment for over 200,000 people from stockpiles alone.
Researchers have said up to 5,000 lives could have been saved if the drug had been introduced at the start of the UK’s pandemic.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’m absolutely delighted that today we can announce the world’s first successful clinical trial for a treatment for COVID-19. This astounding breakthrough is testament to the incredible work being done by our scientists behind the scenes.
“From today the standard treatment for COVID-19 will include dexamethasone, helping save thousands of lives while we deal with this terrible virus.
“Guided by the science, the UK is leading the way in the global fight against coronavirus – with the best clinical trials, the best vaccine development and the best immunology research in the world.”
Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and one of the Chief Investigators for the trial, said: “Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19.
“This is an extremely welcome result. 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.”