The U.K. government has approved the use of dexamethasone — the first coronavirus drug that scientists says has been shown to save lives — and it costs just £5 ($6) per patient.
A trial led by Oxford University found that the low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators, and by a fifth for those on oxygen, according to results published earlier on Tuesday.
The treatment will now be used on the NHS as standard care for Covid-19 patients and the U.K.’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the drug could “immediately be used across the world” to save lives, at the government’s daily briefing on Tuesday afternoon.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as the “biggest breakthrough yet” in the global research effort in the fight against coronavirus, at the daily briefing. He added that the U.K. had enough supplies of the drug to deal with a potential second spike in hospital admissions.
The trial’s lead investigator Oxford University’s Professor Peter Horby said when used to treat patients on ventilators with Covid-19, dexamethasone reduced deaths by about 35% and cut the risk of death by 20% in those who required oxygen. Horby said that if eight patients on ventilators were treated with the drug, one life would be saved, adding that the total cost of treating the eight people would be just £40 ($50).
Speaking at the daily briefing, he added that the “60-odd”-year-old drug was very cheap, could be found on every pharmacy shelf in every hospital in the country and was the first drug to be shown to improve survival from Covid-19.
The RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy) trial, led by a team from Oxford University, was launched in March to test six potential coronavirus treatments, including the low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone. Earlier this month the trial concluded that hydroxychloroquine – which President Donald Trump claimed he was taking – provided no clinical benefit. In total 11,500 patients took part in the trial across 175 hospitals during the height of the pandemic.
A total of 2,104 patients were given dexamethasone once a day for ten days and were compared with 4,321 who received the usual care. In results released by researchers on Tuesday, the drug reduced deaths by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth in patients receiving oxygen.
Based on those results, one death would be prevented for every eight patients on ventilators and one life would be saved for every 25 patients on oxygen, the researchers said.
Vallance said: “This is a ground-breaking development in our fight against the disease, and the speed at which researchers have progressed finding an effective treatment is truly remarkable.” During the daily briefing Vallance reiterated that the drug would not prevent people from catching coronavirus and was only shown to benefit those who develop respiratory problems as a result of Covid-19.