COVID-19: Boris Johnson Calls Dexamethasone “Biggest Breakthrough Yet”


Earlier today British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the steroid dexamethasone as the "biggest breakthrough yet" in combating COVID-19. Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

There’s good news out of the U.K. in the fight against COVID-19. A steroid called dexamethasone reduced deaths by up to one-third in severely ill hospitalized patients, researchers announced Tuesday.

The drug is already used to treat a range of other ailments, including arthritis, asthma and some skin conditions.

When used in treatment of 2,104 coronavirus patients, it reduced deaths by 35 per cent in those who needed a ventilator and by 20 per cent for those who needed supplemental oxygen only. It did not, however, help less ill patients. Steroid drugs like dexamethasone reduce inflammation, the build up of which in the lungs of COVID-19 patients is understood to increase risk of fatality.

Speaking at his daily Downing Street briefing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was a genuine case to celebrate “a remarkable British scientific achievement,” adding: “We have taken steps to ensure we have enough supplies, even in the event of a second peak.”

Johnson also called dexamethasone the “biggest breakthrough yet” in the hunt to find a long-term solution for COVID-19. In April, the prime minister spent a week in London’s St. Thomas hospital being treated for the respiratory illness, receiving oxygen while in intensive care for three days of his stay.

The research around dexamethasone is part of a larger study, known as the RECOVERY trial, looking at existing drugs in the treatment of COVID-19, including those used to treat HIV, as well as convalescent therapy, where antibodies from people who have survived the illness are used in the treatment of sick patients.

Earlier this month the trial showed that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine — touted (and supposedly taken) by U.S. President Donald Trump — was not working against the novel coronavirus. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoked its emergency authorization of hydroxychloroquine (and chloroquine) for the treatment COVID-19. Trump, however, doubled-down on his support for the drug, claiming that American health agencies couldn’t see the health benefits of it and that there had supposedly been reports of its effectiveness from other countries. His assertions contradict multiple studies coming out of the U.K., Spain and the U.S. that suggest the drug is largely ineffective in combating COVID-19.

The study on dexamethasone has yet to be published or peer reviewed.

When asked Tuesday afternoon about the findings, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the country will, “look with great interest at the actual publication” in considering the drug as a viable treatment.

“As we’ve seen with many treatments proposed in the course of learning about this new virus, it’s very important for us to examine the results — and very carefully — before making any further recommendations.”


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