Common anti-inflammatory drug offers promising COVID-19 treatment

Dexamethasone is a promising new treatment for people seriously ill with the coronavirus. It’s a common anti-inflammatory that has been found to save lives and researchers call it a major breakthrough.

Researchers at Oxford University have been testing the drug and said if the steroid had been used from the start of the pandemic, thousands of lives could have been saved. The drug is widely available and is not expensive.

At Stanford Hospital, doctors in the intensive care unit, who are treating the sickest COVID-19 patients, are taking a closer look at the drug dexamethasone to help improve patients chances of survival. Dr. Angela Rogers specializes in pulmonary and critical care.

“I think it’s one of the most exciting things about this study, it seems to really help sick patients with COVID-19,” said Rogers.

On Tuesday, researchers from Oxford University released details on a clinical study. Thousands of patients at random were given the steroid for 10 days. Results from the preliminary study found the mortality rates improved by 30 percent.

“This drug dexamethasone, reduced the risk of dying by about one-third for people who are on breathing machines, ventilators, and about one-fifth, the people who didn't need the breathing machines but did need oxygen in the hospital,” said Martin Landray, University of Oxford’s Chief Investigator.

The drug is readily available and has been around for years, used to treat arthritis and asthma. It’s different from other treatments Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine that target the virus. The steroid suppresses a patient’s immune system's response.

“It decreases inflammation, and that’s what the virus does to very sick people and to people on respirators,” said Dr. Marc Siegl, FOX News Medical Contributor.

“This is only one study,” said Dr. Peter Back of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “But it is clear from this study that what we know today is that dexamethasone will reduce the risk of death.”

While researchers said the drug should become standard of care for patients on ventilators, others are wary about starting patients on the therapy right way.

“The actual study hasn’t been published yet,” said Dr. Rogers. “It hasn’t gone through peer review where people get to dig into the data.”

Dr. Rogers of Stanford said she’s meeting with the hospital’s COVID-19 task force on Wednesday to determine if they should wait.

“We’ve been burned many times in academic medicine with not waiting for the actual paper to be published and the data isn’t quite as good as it looked at first,” said Dr. Rogers.

Potential side effects of steroids include muscle loss and weakness as well as predisposition to other infections. The drug has been approved for use in the UK. Doctors may use the drug on a case-by-case basis.