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First drug found to reduce mortality in hospitalised COVID-19 patients

The steroid dexamethasone has been identified as the first drug to improve survival rates in certain coronavirus patients, according to a study carried out by Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust, as part of a nationwide NIHR-funded clinical trial.

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The drug has already been recommended by Barts Health as a standard of care for COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen or more intensive care.

RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) was established in March 2020 as a randomised clinical trial to test a range of potential treatments for COVID-19, including low-dose dexamethasone (a corticosteroid).

Teams from Queen Mary and Barts Health, including staff led by Professor Rupert Pearse and the principal investigator Dr Simon Tiberi, enrolled more than 130 patients into the study across Barts Health hospitals, including The Nightingale, The Royal London, Whipps Cross and Newham. Across the UK, a total of 2,104 patients were randomised to dexamethasone once per day for ten days and were compared with 4321 patients randomised to best care alone.

Reducing risk of death by a third

Professor Chloe Orkin, Clinical Lead for COVID-19 research at Barts Health and Queen Mary said: “We are proud to be delivering a range of COVID-19 trials at Barts Health NHS Trust. It is so important that our very diverse communities are offered the opportunity of taking part in potentially life-saving trials like RECOVERY.  Our hospitals serve more than 2.6 million people in East London, many of whom are socially disadvantaged.”

The study, led by the University of Oxford, found that dexamethasone reduced the risk of dying by one-third in ventilated patients and by one-fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only.

Overall, dexamethasone reduced the risk of 28-day mortality by 17 per cent with a highly significant trend showing greatest benefit among those on ventilators. No evidence of benefit was found for patients who did not receive oxygen.

A huge national effort

Dr David Collier, who is leading clinical research training at Queen Mary, said: “This has been a huge national effort, involving large numbers of nurses, doctors, pharmacists, administrators, regulators, and other volunteers, up and down the country, many of whom have never worked together before, putting their efforts into delivering large collective clinical trials.

“Some of these trials, including RECOVERY, have been assembled in just a few days, which is an enormous achievement. By joining together and putting individual priorities to one side, the UK is producing robust and hugely important answers which the world needs. All of the Barts Health and Queen Mary staff involved in this national effort should be very proud.”

Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England added: “This is the most important trial result for COVID-19 so far. Is shows significant reduction in mortality in those requiring oxygen or ventilation from a widely available, safe and well known drug. We should all be grateful to the patients who volunteered and those who made this trial possible. It will save lives around the world.”

'The forefront of the fight against the coronavirus'

Prof Nick Lemoine, Director of Queen Mary’s Barts Cancer Institute and Medical Director of the NIHR's Clinical Research Network, said: “This is hugely promising news from a world-leading team of researchers. Once again, this shows how UK research is truly at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus, and how the NIHR's unique funding, support and delivery model leads to meaningful breakthroughs in unprecedented time-frames."

The RECOVERY Trial is a large, randomised controlled trial of possible treatments for patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19. Over 11,500 patients have been randomised to receive a variety of drug treatments, and in addition to the latest results, the study has already discovered that hydroxychloroquine is not an effective treatment.

More information

For the latest Queen Mary news on coronavirus research and work, please read our dedicated webpage.

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