Low doses of steroid dexamethasone have been found to reduce the risk of death by up to one-third among coronavirus patients with severe respiratory complications, researchers from Oxford University said.
The results were announced Tuesday and researchers said they would publish them soon.
“Based on these results, one death would be prevented by treatment of around eight ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone,” researchers said in a statement.
The drug was given either orally or through an IV. It reduced deaths by 35% in patients who needed treatment with a ventilator and by 20% in those only needing supplemental oxygen.
The drug is already used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions, the BBC reported, and it appears that it helps stop some of the damage that can happen when the body's immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight off coronavirus.
Roughly 2,000 hospital patients in the trial were given dexamethasone and were compared with more than 4,000 who did not receive the drug.
“This is an extremely welcome result,” Peter Horby of the University of Oxford, one of the study leaders, 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.”
This is the same study that earlier this month showed the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was not working against the coronavirus.
The research is funded by government health agencies in the United Kingdom and private donors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for the coronavirus.