According to a story from Buzzfeed News, the results of a recent trial held in the UK may have finally revealed a medication that can have a major positive impact in severe cases of COVID-19. The drug in question is the corticosteroid dexamethasone, a drug that has been in use since 1958. The finding may herald a major breakthrough in the treatment of the disease; treatment with just a small dose of the medication was able to reduce the risk of death significantly.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Struggle
The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has continued to take its toll around the world, with a total of 7.82 million cases reported across the world and 432,000 deaths. A major portion of this total is in the US, which failed to respond to the pandemic effectively and has suffered 2.17 million cases and 118,000 deaths at the time of this writing. There are little signs of real improvement in the country as many states implemented re-opening plans before they had reached CDC guidelines; as a result, some regions are seeing new outbreaks and resurgences of cases. While the ultimate goal is to develop a vaccine for the virus, the medical community has been frantic in its efforts to find an effective treatment in the meantime.
Success so far has been limited; drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir have been hyped in the media and by government officials, but their impacts in scientific studies have been limited and even at times counterproductive. However, the findings from the dexamethasone study appear to offer real progress.
While some of the data has yet to be completely finalized, the researchers are hopeful. 2,104 patients who were hospitalized because of severe disease were given the drug. Compared to patients that received the current standard symptomatic management, dexamethasone was able to reduce the death rate by up to a third in patients on ventilators and up to a fifth in patients requiring oxygen supplementation. Benefit was found primarily in the most severely affected patients requiring breathing/oxygen assistance. These findings represent a far greater impact than what has been found in many other drugs that have been evaluated.
Dexamethasone has been around for a long time and is also pretty cheap, with a month’s supply running just $25 in the US. It has a wide range of uses, such as controlling inflammation, as part of chemotherapy, treating nausea/vomiting, treating high altitude diseases, in pregnancy (to promote fetal lung development), and treating endocrine diseases. It also is fortunate that dexamethasone is widely used and widely available. Additionally, only a small dose is necessary, reducing the risk of side effects.
The drug could help reshape the fight against coronavirus and save thousands of lives. Keep your fingers crossed.