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Cheap ’60s drug cuts coronavirus deaths

A CHEAP drug that reduces death risk in coronavirus patients by up to a third is being made available following a ‘world-first’ breakthrough in Britain.

The £5 steroid dexamethasone could have saved 5,000 UK lives had it been used since the start of the outbreak, say Oxford university experts behind a major trial conducted in hospitals.

There are about 200,000 courses of the drug in a government stockpile and it has been approved for immediate use in the war against the virus. The prime minister’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said it was ‘the most important trial result for Covid-19 so far’ and would ‘save lives around the world’.

The Oxford study’s lead investigator Prof Peter Horby said: ‘The drug itself is very widely available — it’s on almost every pharmacy shelf in every hospital and it’s extremely cheap.

‘This is really good news that we’ve got a treatment that almost every patient can take and will get a benefit from.’ Daily doses of the drug — used for other conditions since the 1960s — were given to 2,104 seriously ill NHS patients with the virus. A control group of 4,321 were not given it. Among patients on ventilators, the steroid cut death risk from 40 per cent to 28 per cent.

For every eight people given it, one extra life was saved. Among patients not on ventilators but receiving oxygen, death risk was reduced from 25 per cent to 20 per cent, with one life saved for every 25 people treated.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: ‘This is the first medicine shown to reduce deaths in any group with Covid. It shows it’s possible to do and the hope is other drugs will add on top of that.’

But he cautioned: ‘It’s roughly one in eight who survive as a result of this — a very important effect but certainly not an effect-size that would say, therefore, you don’t need to worry about the other measures to try and reduce the spread of this infection.’

Boris Johnson said: ‘There’s genuine cause for celebrating a remarkable scientific achievement and the benefits it will bring.’