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Oxford Researchers Identify First Drug Proven to Reduce COVID-19 Fatalities

Dr. Paul McKay works at a lab at the Imperial College London, London, Britain, March 11, 2020. (Thomas Angus/Reuters)

Researchers at the University of Oxford announced Tuesday that they had found the first proven life-saving coronavirus treatment, after a clinical trial of dexamethasone, a low-cost steroid treatment, cut the risk of death by one-third for coronavirus patients on ventilators and one-fifth for those on oxygen.

The study, part of the U.K.’s “Recovery Trial” project to find existing treatments for COVID-19, compared approximately 2,000 hospital patients that were given dexamethasone with nearly 4,000 who did not get the drug.

For patients on ventilators, it cut death risk from 40 percent to 28 percent, while patients who required oxygen saw their death risk fall from 25 percent to 20 percent.

“This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality, and it reduces it significantly. It’s a major breakthrough,” Dr. Peter Horby, chief investigator on the study, said in a statement. Head researcher Dr. Martin Landray added that the drug’s low cost would lead to an even greater impact.

“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. This is a drug that is globally available,” he said, emphasizing that for every eight patients on ventilators that are treated with the drug, one life could be saved.

The only other drug that has shown promise in a clinical setting for treating coronavirus is remdesivir, an experimental antiviral treatment that has shown promise in treating patients early in the infection’s onset.

Researchers at Oxford have also made significant headway with a vaccine after positive trials with rhesus macaque monkeys — who after 28 days were healthy despite being exposed to heavy quantities of coronavirus that sickened the control group.

Oxford University researcher John Bell, who is leading the project, said in May that the vaccine’s ability to generate “strong antibody responses is probably going to be OK,” but said the verdict was still out on whether it would be a safe treatment.

“We’re pretty sure we’ll get a signal by June about whether this works or not,” Bell stated.

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