What is Dexamethasone, the Drug Hailed as a Major Breakthrough in Treating Coronavirus?


What is Dexamethasone, the Drug Hailed as a Major Breakthrough in Treating Coronavirus?

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

The pandemic appears to be far from over, with new cases being reported in Beijing, China and New Zealand. Despite the resurgence, there is some encouraging news to emerge from the United Kingdom. Researchers involved in the RECOVERY clinical trial claim to have found a new treatment for coronavirus patients, a cheap and widely available drug called dexamethasone, which significantly brings down mortality rates.

“This is a result that shows that if patients who have Covid-19 are on ventilators or on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost,” said one of the RECOVERY trial’s co-leaders, an Oxford professor named Martin Landray. A BBC report on this development said that the study found that it lowered the risk of death for patients on ventilators from 40 per cent to 28 per cent, and for patients needing oxygen, the risk of death went down from 25 per cent to 20 per cent.

“This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly. It’s a major breakthrough,” chief investigator Prof Peter Horby told BBC.

“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide,” he added.

Globally, there have been over 431,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, so the discovery of dexamethasone as a possible treatment is good news. Dexamethasone has been used in medicine for a wide range of other ailments, including arthritis and asthma. While it has been used to reduce inflammation in the case of these other ailments, it also helps Covid-19 patients whose immune system has gone into overdrive due to the presence of the virus in their body.

The breakthrough is being hailed by those in the medical community.

Before dexamethasone was identified as a possible option to treat coronavirus patients, the drugs hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir were being touted as candidates. However, there was much back-and-forth over the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine (despite its controversial endorsement by US President Donald Trump), and remdesivir was a new drug with limited supplies. Dexamethasone does not share these issues, as it is cheap, and widely available. However, the researchers at the RECOVERY trials have said that it should only be used for patients who need it, and that it should not be taken at home.

Defeating the pandemic worldwide will be a long, hard struggle for the medical fraternity, but this new development may reinvigorate them in their fight against Covid-19.