RESEARCHERS IN Oxford have identified the first drug proven to be effective in treating patients seriously ill with coronavirus.
In what is a huge step forward in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, an inexpensive and widely available drug has been found to cut the risk of death for patients on ventilators by a third.
For patients on oxygen, it cuts the chances of death from coronavirus by a fifth.
The breakthrough comes in the form of low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone, which is used to reduce inflammation when used to treat other health conditions.
Costing just £5 per dose, researchers say the drug, had it been identified as a treatment at the start of the pandemic, could have saved up to 5,000 lives in the UK.
Chief Investigator for the study, Professor Peter Horby, said dexamethasone should now become a standard treatment for patients with Covid-19.
"Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19," he said. "This is an extremely welcome result."
"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.’
Lead researcher Professor Martin Landray said that one life could be saved for every eight patients on a ventilator or every 20-25 on oxygen, stating there is a "clear, clear benefit".
"The treatment is up to 10 days of dexamethasone and it costs about £5 per patient, so essentially it costs £35 to save a life."
The UK Government has said it has 200,000 courses of the drug in its stockpile and will make it available free on the NHS to coronavirus patients, however people are discouraged from buying it and ingesting it at home.
The drug was identified as a successful treatment for coronavirus following the world's biggest study into existing treatments being used on Covid-19 patients.
In the trial, led by Oxford researchers, 2,104 hospitalised coronavirus patients were given dexamethasone compared with more than 4,000 who were not.
For patients on ventilators, the risk of death dropped from 40% to 28%, and for those on oxygen it dropped from 25% to 20%.