World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday called the initial clinical trial results of a steroid shown to reduce deaths in critically ill coronavirus patients “great news.”
“This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support,” he said of dexamethasone, which reduced the mortality of those on ventilators in the trial by one-third.
“This is great news and I congratulate the Government of the U.K., the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the U.K. who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough," he said in a statement.
Currently, 50 percent of COVID-19 patients who need a ventilator don’t survive, according to BBC News.
Dexamethasone, which has been used since the 1960s as an anti-inflammatory for arthritis and asthma patients, is inexpensive and widely available.
University of Oxford researchers said the drug also reduced deaths in coronavirus patients on oxygen by one-fifth. The results didn’t show improvement in those with a milder form of the disease.
“Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19,” Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford and chief investigaor in the trial, said in a statement. “The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment.”
The findings haven’t yet been published or peer-reviewed.
The WHO said it’s looking forward to the full data analysis of the results.
“Assuming that when it goes through peer review it stands — and these are well-established researchers — it’s a huge breakthrough, a major breakthrough,” Dr. Sam Parnia, a pulmonologist and associate professor of medicine at New York University, said, according to The New York Times. “I cannot emphasize how important this could be.”
Horby said dexamethasone will become standard for severely ill COVID-19 patients in the United Kingdom.
The findings are part of the world’s largest clinical trial of existing drugs in the treatment of the virus.
Researchers said 5,000 lives could have been saved in the U.K. if dexamethasone had been used from the beginning of the pandemic, the BBC reported.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the results a “remarkable British scientific achievement.”
The only other drug that has been clinically shown to benefit coronavirus patients is remdesivir, an Ebola drug with limited supplies that reduces the length of the virus. Trial results haven’t shown that it can reduce mortality, according to the BBC.
The news comes as cases have spiked across several states as businesses start to reopen.
“When I look at the TV and I see pictures of people congregating at bars when the location they are indicates they shouldn’t be doing that, that’s very risky,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious-disease expert, told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday.
The White House said the uptick in cases is due to an increase in testing, but Fauci, who said he hasn't spoken to President Trump in weeks, told the Journal in some states it “cannot be explained by increased testing.”