Researchers say drug improved survival among COVID-19 patients in 'major breakthrough'

Biochemist Daniela Beatriz Ori manipulates swab samples to make a real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis for COVID-19 testing at the biochemistry lab of Central Navy Hospital D
(Image credit: Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

An inexpensive drug looks to be able to improve survival odds for COVID-19 patients with "severe respiratory complications," according to a new study.

Researchers on Tuesday announced the results of a study in which 2,104 patients received dexamethasone, a steroid, and 4,321 patients received usual care, The Associated Press reports. The drug reduced deaths by one-third for patients who were on ventilators and one-fifth for patients who were receiving oxygen, they said.

However, the study didn't show a benefit to patients "who did not require respiratory support," according to the announcement.

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"This is an extremely welcome result," University of Oxford's Peter Horby, one of the chief investigators on the study, said in a statement. "The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients. Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide."

Horby also described dexamethasone, which BBC News reports is "already used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions," as the "first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19" and told Reuters this is a "major breakthrough." Still, Axios notes the results of this trial "have not been peer-reviewed, or published formally at all." The researchers said the details will be published "as soon as possible."

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Brendan Morrow

Brendan is a staff writer at The Week. A graduate of Hofstra University with a degree in journalism, he also writes about horror films for Bloody Disgusting and has previously contributed to The Cheat Sheet, Heavy, WhatCulture, and more. He lives in New York City surrounded by Star Wars posters.