Researchers Say Drug Reduces Deaths In Severely Ill Coronavirus Patients

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Researchers are hopeful about a new drug to treat coronavirus patients.

“Up until now, nothing has been shown to be beneficial,” says Dr. Amit Kaura, AHN pulmonary critical care and medical director of medical ICU West Penn Hospital. “This is our first real breakthrough in terms of battling COVID.”

It’s an inexpensive, common medicine called dexamethasone.

“An IV or an oral steroid medication that we give for its anti-inflammatory properties,” said. Dr. Kaura.

In a British study, researchers randomly assign patients to get dexamethasone or the usual care. They compared the 2,000 patients who got the drug to the 4,000 patients who did not.

In patients on a ventilator, the drug group had a 35 percent lower death rate.

In patients who needed oxygen but not a breathing machine, the drug group had a 20 percent lower death rate.

For patients who did not need oxygen, there was no difference.

“….which is pretty statistically significant, as well as clinically significant,” Dr. Kaura says. “A third reduction means that there will be a lot of lives that will be saved as a result of using dexamethasone. The hospitals will make this part of their standard of care.”

While the study has not yet been peer-reviewed and published, the researchers stopped enrolling patients because the results are so clear.

“The manuscript for the study has not been released as of yet and it does make some people uneasy,” Dr. Kaura says but points out, “It’s not every day you have studies that are stopped because of overwhelmingly positive results.”

Local doctors have already been using steroids to treat coronavirus patients.

“The major factor that really turned him around was we started steroids,” says Dr. Gregory Fino, an intensive care doctor at St. Clair Hospital, in an April 24 report about a severely ill patient who survived.

There are other drugs in this class that could be used, as well.

“As of right now, dexamethasone was the one that’s been studied. But I think there will be some cross-play between other steroids. The dosages will vary, as well as the frequency,” says Dr. Kaura.

Dexamethasone also has potential side effects that can be serious, including an increased risk for infections.

“Initially, when the COVID pandemic started, there was a scare in using steroids,” Dr. Kaura says.

In the trial, these superimposed infections did not occur.

This type of drug can make your blood pressure and blood sugar go up; it can affect your bones, your eyes, your mood and your body chemistries. So it should be used only for appropriate patients and with caution.