Trials in the UK have found that dexamethasone, a cheap and readily available steroid, can reduce death rates for coronavirus patients, reports the BBC.
In a trial led by a team at Oxford University, around 2,000 Covid-19 patients were given the drug, which reduced deaths among people on ventilators from 40 percent to 28 percent, and deaths among patients needing oxygen from 25 percent to 20 percent.
The treatment has been described by scientists as a "major breakthrough", with the drug thought to have been able to save between 4,000 to 5,000 lives in the UK if it was used earlier on in the pandemic.
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"There is a clear, clear benefit," said lead researcher, Professor Martin Landray. "The treatment is up to ten 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 added that hospital patients should be given the drug, but that it does not appear to help patients suffering from milder coronavirus symptoms, and that people should not buy it to use at home.
The discovery was made during the world's biggest trial into whether preexisting treatments also work in the treatment of coronavirus. The RECOVERY Trial, which has been running in the UK since March, has found that remdesivir, an antiviral treatment, appears to decrease the recovery time for people suffering from Covid-19, but does not affect the death rate.
The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was also trialled, but researches warned against its use, saying it increases heart problems and fatalities. Despite this, US President Donald Trump has reportedly continued to use the drug.