Is Dexamethasone a lifesaver?

Last week, a research team of UK announced a breakthrough drug which created hope for people who are severely ill by COVID-19. The drug which is known as “Dexamethasone” is a cheap, safe and known as a widely available drug, which is already in use. The three months work hard results of the research team, has changed the entire global medical practice.

Dexamethasone was first made in 1957 by Philip Showalter Hench and was approved for medical use in 1961. As a type of corticosteroid medication, it is used to treat many inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Hence, the World Health Organization includes Dexamethasone in the list of essential medicines. In 2017, it was the 321st most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than one million prescriptions.

So far, the only proven drug that helps COVID-19 patients is the anti-viral drug Remdesivir which was used for Ebola patients. Even though the drug Remdesvir has been shown to reduce the duration of COVID-19 symptoms from 15 days to 11 days, the results of the researches were not significant enough to prove that it reduces mortality rates of the COVID-19 patients. Unlike Dexamethasone, the availability of Remdesivir is limited and the price is not yet decided.

However, dexamethasone is identified as a lifesaver for seriously ill patients with coronavirus. The clinical trial conducted by the research team of Oxford University has proven that, for patients on ventilators, it cut the risk of death from 40% to 28%. And for patients needing oxygen, it cut the risk of death from 25% to 20%. The trial included 2000 hospital patients who were given 6mg of dexamethasone daily for 10 days and more than 4000 patients who were not given the drug.

The results of the study were celebrated and the research team says, had the drug had been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved as It cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators.  And for those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth.

Once the new novel coronavirus enters the human body, the immune system gets triggered. Thus utilizing its fullest potential to fight against the virus. However, sometimes the immune system goes into overdrive and it’s this reaction that can prove fatal. The very reaction designed to attack infection ends up attacking the body’s own cells. Dexamethasone calms down this effect when given to critically ill COVID-19 patients in prescribed doses.

The drug is only suitable for people who are already in the hospital and receiving oxygen or mechanical ventilation and the drug does not work on people with milder symptoms, because suppressing their immune system at this point would not be helpful.

When dexamethasone is used for non-COVID conditions the side effects are reported as anxiety, difficulty sleeping, weight gain and fluid retention. Eye disorders, blurred vision and haemorrhage are identified as rarer side effects.

However, professionals say that coronavirus patients only need a relatively low dose of the drug which would limit the side effects. The Chief Medical Officer for England said there were “no excess harms identified in using this dose of dexamethasone in this patient population”.

Medical professionals anticipate that breakthrough drug dexamethasone could save millions of lives in poor countries with a high number of cases and low health facilities. Also, the NHS is looking forward to making the drug available to patients as the UK government has 200,000 courses of the drug in its stockpile.

As the drug came for medical use is 1961, it is out of patent. Therefore it is expected that lots of different companies can produce the drug making it globally available. Currently, the drug costs from £5.40 a day per patient and the treatment on Covid-19 patients last for up to 10 days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said “a remarkable British scientific achievement”, adding: “We have taken steps to ensure we have enough supplies, even in the event of a second peak.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the agency is hoping to coordinate a meta-analysis to increase the overall understanding of the intervention carried out by Oxford researchers’ team. Further, the organization says that it will update the clinical guidance on how and when the drug should be used in COVID-19.

“This is great news and I congratulate the government of the UK, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the UK who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

By Jumana Jabeer

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