On the 16th June, researchers from the Recovery Trial announced the low-cost steroid Dexamethasone had been found to reduce the risk of death in seriously ill COVID-19 patients by one third for ventilated patients and by one fifth for patients receiving oxygen treatment.
What is the Recovery Trial?
The Recovery Trial involves randomised controlled trials of seven potential treatments and drugs by Oxford University. Randomised controlled trials are considered to be the gold standard of clinical trials as they can provide reliable evidence on the effectiveness of treatments.
On the 5th June, the Recovery Trial announced that a study of over 4,500 patients concluded that hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria touted by President Trump, had ‘no clinical benefit’.
The Recovery trial is currently investigating an HIV drug called Lopinavir-Ritonavir, an antibiotic called Azithromycin, an antiviral called Remdesivir and an anti-inflammatory called Tocilizumab. The investigators are also considering whether plasma donated by survivors of COVID-19 could be used to treat the disease.
So, is Dexamethasone a game-changer?
Dexamethasone is a major achievement in the fight against COVID-19 as it is the first drug found to reduce mortality. The steroid does significantly reduce mortality in the sickest COVID-19 patients and is now available on the NHS for all eligible patients.
Dexamethasone has been around for nearly 60 years and is very cheap to produce, this will be advantageous in poorer countries for example, in Africa where the peak of the outbreak is still to come.
However, there are a few caveats to this research. Firstly, the drug is not a vaccine and has no preventive effect against COVID-19. It has only been proved to work in patients receiving oxygen or those on ventilators and so won’t help in a community setting.
Secondly, while Dexamethasone reduces the mortality rate, it is still too high with over a quarter of ventilated patients dying even with Dexamethasone.
Dexamethasone is a significant achievement and shows that COVID-19 can be treated. However, the pandemic is far from over and throughout the UK and the world, social distancing and lockdown measures are still needed to prevent further unnecessary deaths.