A cheap steroid has been shown to save one in every eight coronavirus patients on ventilators and reduce the risk of death by a third among the most severely ill.
Scientists at Oxford University who conducted trials of the drug dexamethasone have hailed their findings as a “major breakthrough” in the worldwide quest to find a cure for COVID-19.
They say their results, released on Wednesday morning (Australian time), should be enough to make the drug the standard care in the most severe cases of the virus.
For less than 50 euros ($A90), the steroid used to reduce inflammation in other diseases “can treat eight [COVID-19] patients and save a life”, said Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor co-leading the trial.
“It’s going to be very hard for any drug, really, to replace this (dexamethasone),” he said.
If patients who have COVID-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost.’’
Researchers stressed that they could not prove any benefit of using the drug to help COVID-19 patients who did not require oxygen support.
Co-lead investigator Peter Horby said dexamethasone was the first and “only drug that’s so far shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly”.
“It is a major breakthrough,” he said.
“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”
A COVID-19 expert at the Wellcome Trust global health charity said the findings would “transform the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on lives and economies across the world”.
“Countless lives will be saved globally,” Nick Cammack said.
The findings are a significant step towards finding a cure for the virus which, byWednesday morning, had killed 438,806 people worldwide.
Teams in several countries, including Australia, are working around the clock testing drugs, and finding new ones, to treat or prevent COVID-19.
For the Oxford trial dubbed ‘RECOVERY’, about 6400 patients signed up to be tested.
About 2100 patients were randomly assigned to get the steroid.
The results suggest that one death would be prevented by treatment with dexamethasone among every eight ventilated COVID-19 patients.
One death would be prevented among every 25 COVID-19 patients that are on oxygen.
Meanwhile, dozens more coronavirus cases have emerged in Beijing, with authorities describing the city’s new cluster – after going 56 days without a case – as “extremely severe”.
There have been 36 new cases, forcing China’s Vice Premier Sun Chunla to take “decisive measures” amid fears of a second wave.
The outbreak, linked to a wholesale food market, has forced schools to shut down and resume online classes, and universities to suspend the return of their students.
Australia seeks truth
China, alongside Russia and Turkey, has been linked to more than 32,000 Twitter accounts used to spread disinformation and “improve their own image in the COVID-19 context”.
That was the pointed message from Foreign Minister Marise Payne in a speech at the Australian National University’s National Security College on Tuesday night.
“It is troubling that some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy and promote their own, more authoritarian models,” Senator Payne said.
“The disinformation we have seen contributes to a climate of fear and division when what we need is cooperation and understanding.”
Her comments come as the pandemic, and questions over China’s handling of it, shakes up global relations and fuel tensions between Canberra and Beijing. I
“have also been very clear in rejecting as disinformation the warnings of the Chinese Government that tourists and students should reconsider coming here because of racism,” she said.
“I can say emphatically that Australia will welcome students and visitors from all over the world, regardless of race, of gender or nationality.”
Appearing to again point to concerns China has influenced the World Health Organisation, Senator Payne said “Australia wants to see a stronger WHO that is more independent and transparent”.
- Read Senator Payne’s full speech here
COVID-19 is “a shared crisis” and a reminder that problems can only be “solved through cooperation”, she said while also pointing to a need for Australia to remain engaged internationally while looking after its national interests.
“Australia’s interests are not served by stepping away and leaving others to shape global order for us,” Senator Payne said.
The government was “pivoting” its “partnerships” in support of the health security, the economic recovery and the stability of our region.
“As the distribution of wealth and power has shifted, Australia has been deepening our ties to nations who share our vision of a region and a globe that promotes peace and prosperity for all, under an international order built around rules,” she said.
“The unexpected body blow to international stability delivered by COVID-19 reaffirms this approach, strengthening our resolve to build a network of nations who hold these values and interests, and to do more in the building of international cooperation.”