An easily available drug may have saved the lives of a million COVID sufferers around the world since its discovery in June, NHS England has said.
Dexamethasone, an inexpensive and widely available steroid, was found to reduce deaths from COVID-19 following a clinical trial.
It cut the risk of death by a third for COVID patients on ventilators, while fatalities for those on oxygen fell by almost a fifth, scientists from the University of Oxford found as part of a clinical trial known as Recovery.
The drug, normally available on prescription, was made available to patients on hospital wards in England hours after the trial’s findings were published in June last year.
The new figures are revealed in a paper for NHS England, which concluded that using it has saved around 22,000 British lives.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “Thanks to the exceptional work of our researchers, NHS staff and patients, around one million lives may have been saved around the world.
“Research that would usually take years produced answers in record time – with results that have reverberated across the globe.
“Just as this virus has spread across borders, so too must the treatments and vaccinations that are humanity’s shared ‘exit strategy’ from this pandemic.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This global pandemic has proven that the UK is a world-class force in identifying and rolling out lifesaving treatments to NHS patients.
“Finding dexamethasone”, he said, “was a true success story for British research and it’s fantastic to see the real impact it’s having saving lives here and around the world.”
As well as COVID, dexamethasone is used to treat a wide range of health issues, including severe skin problems, severe allergies, sickness, croup, inflammation of the eye and autoimmune conditions such as lupus.
On Monday, the UK recorded 17 coronavirus deaths in the latest 24-hour period – the lowest daily figure since late September.
Boris Johnson has warned a third wave of infections in Europe would likely hit the UK as well.
Amid a dispute over a possible block on exports of coronavirus jabs to the UK, the prime minister said he had been “reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they don’t want to see blockades”.