The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed on Wednesday the initial results from UK clinical trials of Dexamethasone showing potential life-saving effects among coronavirus (COVID-19) patients in critical conditions.
For patients on ventilators, the corticosteroid was shown to reduce mortality in one in three patients. For those patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth, according to preliminary findings shared with the WHO.
The benefit was only seen in seriously ill patients rather than those presenting with mild symptoms, the WHO said in a press release.
“This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
He added, “This is great news and I congratulate the government of the UK, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the UK who have contributed to this life-saving scientific breakthrough.”
Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that has been in use since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions, including inflammatory disorders and certain cancers, the WHO said.
It has been listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines since 1977 in multiple formulations, and is currently off-patent and affordably available in most countries, it added.
The researchers shared initial insights about the trial results with the WHO, with the organisation saying it is looking forward to the full data analysis in the coming days.
The WHO will coordinate a meta-analysis to increase overall understanding of this intervention. Its clinical guidance will be updated to reflect how and when the drug should be used in coronavirus treatments.
Tuesday’s news builds off the WHO Research & Development Blueprint meeting, which took place in Geneva in mid-February. The meeting was held to accelerate health technologies for the virus, where further research into the use of steroids was highlighted as a priority.
The WHO said the findings reinforce the importance of large randomised control trials that produce actionable evidence. The organisation will continue to work together with its partners to further develop lifesaving therapeutics and vaccines to tackle the coronavirus including under the umbrella of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, it added.
However, the Egyptian Medicines Authority stated that the medication might cause negative side effects such as swelling, pain and muscle weakness, slow wound healing, stomach bleeding, seizures, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and heart failure. The authority warned not to take the medication unless the process is supervised by a physician.