Can the market sustain hospitals' demand for coronavirus drug, dexamethasone?

Steep hospital demand for dexamethasone, which, in a study, British researchers say reduces mortality by one-third among the sickest COVID-19 patients, is "outstripping supply of the drug," reports say, but hospitals’ inventories are sustaining demand for now, according to drug buyer Vizient Inc,.

Vizient is a drug buyer for about half of U.S. hospitals, one outlet wrote, and company officials recently voiced concerns about whether the market can continue to sustain hospitals’ demand for the commonly used corticosteroid.

Hospitals and other customers in the industry advised by Vizient upped orders of the drug by 610 percent after the researchers at the University of Oxford announced the findings of their study on June 16. Vizient said manufacturers were only able to fill 54 percent of those orders.

“Dexamethasone is a workhorse drug for hospitals and it is good that there are several manufacturers in the supply chain," said Dan Kistner, PharmD, group senior vice president, pharmacy solutions for Vizient. "Vizient is in communications with both manufacturers and distributors about the increase in demand and will be monitoring availability and supply of various presentations of dexamethasone as we continue to see the increase in demand."

“What we’re hearing from our members is that they are able to treat the patients who do require dexamethasone – they are treating them and they have product,” Steven Lucio, vice president of pharmacy solutions at Vizient, told Reuters. “The concern is, can the market continue to sustain this?”


Dr. Imran Sharief, a pulmonary disease specialist in California, told Fox News none of the hospitals he attends to had any shortage and he has not heard of any issues.

According to Reuters, Vizient’s data show that hospitals are using the drug more and more to treat COVID-19 patients. Sharief said, of the hospitals he works in, steroids like solumederal used to treat COVID-19 patients, are done on a case-by-case basis in combination with another treatment, such as remdesivir, Actemra or plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients.

Fox News has reached out to Vizient with a request for comment on this story.

He explained that steroids can suppress mediators of inflammation and help with tissue repair.

Hospitals’ inventories are sustaining demand for the drug for now, though drug buyer Vizient Inc,. officials questioned how long the market can sustain the demand. (iStock)

Hospitals’ inventories are sustaining demand for the drug for now, though drug buyer Vizient Inc,. officials questioned how long the market can sustain the demand. (iStock)

U.K. researchers said dexamethasone was found to reduce deaths in patients receiving oxygen by one-fifth and those on ventilators by one-third.


“That’s a pretty significant number if that's the case,” Sharief said in response to the Oxford findings. “At this point, we will be cautious in using this medication. I think the best scenario would be to continue to evaluate patients on a case-by-case and we will wait for the data to be published.”

“This is something that we are just learning and we are doing the best for our patients,” Sharief said.

The preliminary results of the study were announced on June 16, but they were not published until Monday in the medRxiv depository.

As the study awaits peer review, Dr. Daniel Culver, pulmonary and critical care physician at Cleveland Clinic, told Fox News “it is best not to become prematurely enraptured with dexamethasone quite yet.”


Culver also leads a committee at Cleveland Clinic that evaluates COVID-19 clinical trials.

“As a general principle, this study needs to go through peer review and also scrutiny by the scientific community prior to widespread promulgation and premature enthusiasm about the results,” Culver said. “The touted effect size (magnitude of benefit) seems almost unbelievable compared to other evidence-based interventions in critically-ill patients.”

Reuters reported the injectable version of dexamethasone has been in shortage in the U.S. since February of last year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to the U.K. researchers' preliminary report, the study involved oral or intravenous versions of the drug.

German drugmaker Fresenius SE’s Kabi unit claims it currently has a "good inventory" of the steroid available but noted that production in three of its U.S. factories will be increased to keep up with demand, per Reuters, which noted that Fresenius SE’s Kabi unit is "by far" the largest supplier to the U.S. market.