• It would cost just $44.32 to treat COVID-19 patients for 10 days
  • Dexamethasone reduced deaths among ventilator patients by 35%
  • Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid similar to a hormone produced by the adrenal glands

A steroid used to treat arthritis, immune system disorders and allergic reactions reduced the death rate among COVID-19 patients, U.K. researchers said Tuesday. The steroid, dexamethasone, is a corticosteroid similar to a natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands.

The researchers, from Oxford University, called the results a “major breakthrough” and said the drug should become standard care in hospitalized patients.

“This is a result that shows that if patients who have COVID-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost,” clinical trial co-leader Martin Landray said, estimating it would cost $44.23 for a 10-day course.

As of midmorning Tuesday, coronavirus had been confirmed in more than 8 million people worldwide, killing more than 437,000. In the United Kingdom, nearly 300,000 cases had been confirmed with nearly 42,000 deaths.

The results of the clinical trial have yet to be published. It involved 2,104 randomly assigned patients with 4,321 getting the usual care. The drug was given both orally and through IVs. Death rates dropped by 35% in patients on ventilators and by 20% among those getting only oxygen.

Landry estimated the death rate could be reduced to one of every eight patients on a ventilator. Currently, half of all COVID-19 patients put on ventilator die.

There was no apparent impact on patients with less severe cases.

“This is an extremely welcome result,” study co-leader Peter Horby said. “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.”

“Dexamethasone must now be rolled out and accessed by thousands of critically ill patients around the world,” Nick Cammack of the British charity Wellcome told the Associated Press. “It is highly affordable, easy to make, can be scaled up quickly and only needs a small dosage.”

The researchers estimated use of the drug at the start of the pandemic could have saved as many as 5,000 lives across the United Kingdom.

Steroids reduce inflammation caused by the body’s immune system overreacting to an infection, a process known as a cytokine storm.

Dexamethasone was tested in the same study as hydroxychloroquine, the drug touted by President Trump that has proved ineffective against COVID-19. More than 11,000 patients are enrolled in the overall study across the U.K. The trial, which began in March, also includes HIV drugs, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and plasma from recovered patients.

Other clinical studies include evaluation of remdesivir, a drug developed by Gilead to treat Ebola that reduces coronavirus symptoms from 15 days to 11 but only reduced death rates by 3%. No price on remdesevir has been announced.

Dexamethasone has been available since the 1960s.