Matt Hancock says dexamethasone breakthrough is ‘one of the best pieces of news we’ve had’


Matt Hancock today called the dexamethasone breakthrough ‘one of the best pieces of news we’ve had’ during the Covid-19 pandemic, after the £5 steroid was proven to be the first drug to save lives. 

The Health Secretary described the results of the landmark Oxford University trial as ‘brilliant news for everybody’. The drug is already licensed, proven safe and in mass-production. 

Researchers found dexamethasone — which costs 50p a day — cut the risk of death by a third for Covid-19 patients on ventilators. It also slashed the odds by a fifth for anyone needing oxygen at any point.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night hailed the findings of the RECOVERY trial as the ‘biggest breakthrough yet’ in the coronavirus crisis, with scientists claiming it will help to save thousands of lives. 

Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast this morning it was a ‘wonderful’ discovery, saying: ‘It really is the single biggest scientific breakthrough that the world has yet made [in the Covid-19 pandemic].’

In a Sky News interview he added: ‘It (dexamethasone) does increase your chances of survival quite significantly. It is one of the best pieces of news we’ve had through this whole crisis… It is brilliant news for everybody.’

He said the potential of the steroid, created in the 1950s, to fight Covid-19 was first spotted in February. The Government began to buy supplies in April after preliminary data showed it had a beneficial effect.

It comes as leading experts have demanded scientists release the full results of their dexamethasone trial, saying it was ‘unacceptable’ to tout the results without first releasing the paper.

One coronavirus survivor treated with dexamethasone claimed last night the drug saved his life. Pete Herring, 69, was ‘over the moon’ that health chiefs approved the medicine for immediate NHS use in the wake of the results.  

Results of the RECOVERY trial also showed the drug — given as either an injection or once-a-day tablet on the NHS — had no benefit for people who were hospitalised with the virus but did not require oxygen.

Dexamethasone, first created in the 1950s, is usually given to treat ulcerative colitis, arthritis and some types of cancer. It is a generic drug and can be manufactured cheaply and en masse by companies all over the world. 

The Health Secretary described the results of the landmark Oxford University trial as ‘brilliant news for everybody’. The drug is already licensed, proven safe and in mass-production

Peter Herring (pictured), 69, was rushed to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridgeshire late April after the virus infiltrated his lungs. He was given dexamethasone

Peter Herring (pictured), 69, was rushed to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridgeshire late April after the virus infiltrated his lungs. He was given dexamethasone

In the biggest coronavirus breakthrough to date, dexamethasone was found to reduce the risk of dying by coronavirus by up to a third

In the biggest coronavirus breakthrough to date, dexamethasone was found to reduce the risk of dying by coronavirus by up to a third

Professor Atul Gawande, a public health researcher at Harvard University, admitted it would be ‘great news’ if dexamethasone can really cut the risk of dying in critically-ill Covid-19 patients. 

But he tweeted: ‘After all the retractions and walk backs, it is unacceptable to tout study results by press release without releasing the paper.’

It comes after the retraction of a study on the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which found it increases the risk of death in Covid-19 patients.

International trials investigating the Donald Trump-backed drug were halted on the heels of the research, originally published in medical journal The Lancet. 

Independent experts spotted errors in the data behind the study — based on 90,000 patients. It was later retracted. 

Dr David Juurlink, a drug safety researcher at the University of Toronto, also raised concerns about the lack of transparency over the Oxford results.

He said: ‘Just reflecting on the fact that today, doctors all around the world changed how we treat Covid-19 based upon a study we haven’t even been able to read yet.’  

Dr Dara Kass, an emergency medicine doctor at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told Yahoo that ‘we need to see the data’. 

The former John Lewis manager, from Ely, Cambridgeshire, was placed on oxygen support before he volunteered to take part in a new drug's trial

The former John Lewis manager, from Ely, Cambridgeshire, was placed on oxygen support before he volunteered to take part in a new drug’s trial

FORMER COVID-19 PATIENT SAYS THE STEROID SAVED HIS LIFE 

A former coronavirus patient who was treated with dexamethasone has said the experimental medicine ‘saved his life’. 

Peter Herring, of Ely, Cambridgeshire, was rushed to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in late April after the virus infiltrated his lungs and was placed on oxygen support within hours of his arrival.

As his health deteriorated and he became gravely ill, the former John Lewis manager volunteered to take part in a new drug’s trial and was offered dexamethasone, a cheap steroid that has been around for decades, in an effort to save his life.  

Praising the experimental treatment Mr Herring, who was 24 hours away from being placed on a ventilator, told The Sun: ‘When I went into hospital, my breathing was pretty bad and the doctors put me on oxygen. 

‘I was quite worried, as I have type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and had bowel cancer 15 years ago, so I was high risk. The team said I was 24-hours away from being placed on ventilation, and nobody wants that.’

The 69-year-old added: ‘The treatment saved my life. I can’t say for certain, but my breathing was getting worse and then I turned the corner.

‘Five days later I was out of intensive care and just over a week after I went in, I was back at home. I am feeling absolutely wonderful now. I have bounced back and am full of energy.

‘I cannot thank the team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital [pls keep] enough. The standard of care was second to none.

‘I feel incredibly lucky I was given dexamethasone. I am pretty certain that it made a difference to my outcome. I am over the moon that they are now rolling out use of the drug across the country.’

She added: ‘This is more of a confirmation of something that we believed would work with what we hope is good science, but we haven’t seen it yet.’  

Oxford experts last night revealed in a press release they were working to ‘publish the full details as soon as possible’.

Results from the RECOVERY trial suggested the steroid could prevent death in one in eight ventilated coronavirus patients and one in 25 on breathing support.   

A total of 2,104 patients were randomised to receive 6mg of dexamethasone once a day, either by mouth or by intravenous injection for 10 days.

Their outcomes were compared with 4,321 patients given standard care alone, which involves painkillers and, in some cases, antibiotics.

For patients on ventilators, the drug cut the risk of death from 40 per cent to 28 per cent after 28 days. 

In patients who required any form of oxygen, the risk was reduced from a quarter to a fifth. 

The preliminary results — not yet published in a scientific journal — did not observe any notable side effects or adverse reactions. 

But dexamethasone is known to cause a number of mild effects, including vomiting, heartburn, anxiety, high blood pressure, muscle weakness and insomnia. 

The Prime Minister said last night: ‘I’m absolutely delighted the biggest breakthrough yet has been made by a fantastic team of scientists right here in the UK.

‘I think there is genuine cause to celebrate a remarkable British scientific achievement [and] the benefits it will bring not just in this country but around the world.’

Dexamethasone is now the second drug available in the NHS arsenal to treat Covid-19, after Ebola medicine remdesivir was last month given the green light. 

Health chiefs said they imposed a ban at midnight last night to stop businesses from exporting the drug to other countries, in order to protect the UK’s supply. 

The Department of Health claimed it has already stockpiled 200,000 courses of the drug for British patients, after buying it ahead of the results of the trial. 

Britain became the first country to approve dexamethasone for coronavirus patients, officials revealed last night. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosted today's Downing Street press conference where he hailed the approval of dexamethasone as the 'biggest breakthrough so far' in Britain's coronavirus battle

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosted today’s Downing Street press conference where he hailed the approval of dexamethasone as the ‘biggest breakthrough so far’ in Britain’s coronavirus battle

England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty described it as the 'most important trial result' so far

Number 10's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the results of the Oxford University trial was 'tremendous news'

England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty described it as the ‘most important trial result’ so far, and the chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance said it was ‘tremendous news in the fight against this virus’

WHAT IS DEXAMETHASONE?

The steroid drug is a type of anti-inflammatory medicine used to treat a wide-range of conditions.

It is given via an injection or once-a-day tablet and is sold under the brand names Ozurdex and Baycadron. 

In coronavirus patients, the steroid reduces inflammation in the lungs triggered by an overreaction by the immune system.

One in 10 symptomatic Covid-19 patients are thought to suffer from the nasty symptom, known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). 

ARDS causes the immune system to become overactive and attack healthy cells in the lungs.

This makes breathing difficult and the body eventually struggles to get enough oxygen to vital organs. 

Dexamethasone was first made in 1957 and was approved for medical use in 1961.

The steroid is also used to treat  conditions that cause inflammation, conditions related to immune system activity, and hormone deficiency.

These include:

  • allergic reactions
  • rheumatoid arthritis 
  • psoriasis 
  • lupus
  • eczema  
  • flare-ups of intestinal disease, such as ulcerative colitis 
  • multiple sclerosis
  • pre-treatment for chemotherapy to reduce inflammation and side effects from cancer medications
  • adrenal insufficiency (a condition where the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones)

Dexamethasone is known to cause a number of mild to moderate side effects, including vomiting, heartburn, anxiety, high blood pressure, muscle weakness and insomnia.  

Clinical trials of the drug are ongoing in other countries including France, Iran, Spain and Argentina. 

If other countries approve the drug for patients, most will be able to obtain their own supplies from domestic firms.

Professor Martin Landray, lead researcher, said dexamethasone could have saved up to 5,000 lives if it was used throughout the UK’s crisis. 

He said: ‘If you were to design a drug that treats coronavirus, this would be exactly how you’d hope it works.

‘There is a clear, clear benefit. The treatment is up to 10 days of dexamethasone and it costs about £5 per patient. This is a drug that is globally available.’

He warned people should not go and buy it to take at home because it has no effect on people with mild symptoms and could cause nasty side effects.

Co-author Professor Peter Horby said: ‘Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in Covid-19. This is an extremely welcome result.’

He said the survival benefit was ‘clear’, adding that dexamethasone is ‘inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide’.

The RECOVERY trial has recruited more than 11,500 Covid-19 patients from 170 NHS hospitals across the country and is the world’s biggest trial testing existing drugs.

Dexamethasone is just one of five promising therapies being trialled, alongside HIV drug combination lopinavir/ritonavir and antibiotic azithromycin. 

Earlier this month the trial found the promising anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine — branded a game changer by Donald Trump — did not treat coronavirus.  

Some 1,542 patients were randomly given the drug and compared to 3,132 patients randomised to receive standard care.

After 28 days, 25.7 per cent of patients taking the malaria tablets passed away from the virus compared to 23.5 per cent who were not given the medicine.    

Dexamethasone prevents the release of substances that cause inflammation, a nasty Covid-19 complication that makes breathing difficult. 

In seriously unwell coronavirus patients, the lungs become so inflamed they struggle to work. 

Mr Hancock said last night: ‘I’m absolutely delighted we can announce the world’s first successful clinical trial for a treatment for Covid-19. 

WHAT WAS THE FIRST COVID-19 DRUG TO BE APPROVED ON THE NHS? 

Remdesivir became the first medicine approved for coronavirus patients in Britain when it was approved by health chiefs at the end of May. 

Adults and teens battling severe bouts of Covid-19 will be allowed to get remdesivir if they fit specific criteria, officials announced. 

It made the drug, which destroys a part of the virus, the closest thing the NHS had to a cure or treatment for the life-threatening disease.    

Britain’s approval of remdesivir came three weeks after US bosses gave it the green light on May 1, putting the UK weeks behind once again.

Matt Hancock said the experimental Ebola drug was the ‘biggest step forward’ in treating Covid-19 since the outbreak spiralled out of control.

Studies have shown mixed results for remdesivir, with no firm proof that the drug can slash the risk of death in Covid-19 patients.

Until then, there were no drugs that had been approved specifically for the purpose of treating patients with Covid-19.

Doctors have tried to save people with serious infections by giving them oxygen therapy — such as through ventilators for the most sick.  

‘This astounding breakthrough is testament to the incredible work being done by our scientists behind the scenes.

‘From today the standard treatment for Covid-19 will include dexamethasone, helping save thousands of lives while we deal with this terrible virus.’

He said Britain was ‘leading the way’ in the global coronavirus fight and thanked the ‘brilliant scientists’ and ‘thousands of patients’ who took part in the study. 

One patient who received the medication at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, is convinced it saved his life. 

Mr Herring said he was at high risk of dying with Covid-19 because he has high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and had recovered from bowel cancer 15 years earlier.

He was so breathless that he couldn’t talk by the time an ambulance came to get him from his home in Ely and spent five days in intensive care before recovering.

He said: ‘I didn’t think twice about taking part in the trial and said yes straight away. If you can help others in a similar situation then you absolutely should.’

Mr Herring said: ‘I am glad I did it. I feel incredibly lucky I was given dexamethasone. I am pretty certain that it made a difference to my outcome. 

‘And the overall results of the trial are pretty amazing. I am over the moon that they are now rolling out the use of the drug across the country.’  

Leading health figures last night hailed the results of the RECOVERY trial as a ‘huge breakthrough’ which will ‘dramatically improve Covid-19 survival’.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said: ‘NHS hospitals, researchers and clinicians have worked together at breakneck speed to test new treatments for Covid-19.

‘It is amazing to see work that would normally take years bear fruit in just a matter of months.  

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, added: ‘This is a huge breakthrough in our search for new ways to successfully treat patients with Covid, both in the UK and across the world.

‘It is thanks to NHS staff and patients who participated in the trial that from now, we are able to use this drug to dramatically improve Covid-19 survival for people in hospital who require oxygen or ventilation.’

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the news was ‘particularly exciting’ because the drug was so widely available and cheap.

He added: ‘This is a ground-breaking development in our fight against the disease, and the speed at which researchers have progressed finding an effective treatment is truly remarkable. 

‘It shows the importance of doing high quality clinical trials and basing decisions on the results of those trials.’

Dr Nick Cammack, head of the research-charity Wellcome Trust, which is conducting its own studies into Covid-19 therapies, added: ‘This is a major breakthrough.

‘Dexamethasone is the first and only drug that has made a significant difference to patient mortality for Covid-19. 

‘Potentially preventing one death in every eight ventilated patients would be remarkable. 

NHS REGULATOR STOPS RECRUITMENT FOR HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE TRIALS

The UK’s drug regulator has stopped scientists from signing any more Covid-19 patients up to trials of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine.

Hydroxychloroquine caused a storm last month when US President Donald Trump announced he was taking it regularly in a bid to protect himself from coronavirus.

Trials of it as a therapy for the viral disease are ongoing in the UK but the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) today told those running the trials not to sign anyone else up.

It said that it wanted to see better results proving the safety of the drug before it is used any more widely. 

Some studies have shown that large doses of the medication can have damaging effects on the heart and lead to irregular rhythms which can cause deadly complications.

Dr June Raine, CEO of the MHRA, said: ‘We have told those conducting clinical trials using hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent COVID-19 to suspend recruitment into their trials.

‘Neither hydroxychloroquine nor chloroquine are licensed to treat COVID-19 related symptoms or to prevent infection.

‘It is important to note that patients taking hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat other health conditions can continue to do so, as advised by their healthcare professional, as the balance of benefits and risks remains favourable in the licensed uses.’  

‘Finding effective treatments like this will transform the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on lives and economies across the world. 

‘While this study suggests dexamethasone only benefits severe cases, countless lives will be saved globally. 

‘Dexamethasone must now be rolled out and accessed by thousands of critically ill patients around the world. It is highly affordable, easy to make, can be scaled up quickly and only needs a small dosage. 

‘Any and every successful treatment against Covid-19 must be made available to everyone who needs it globally, regardless of their ability to pay.’  

Professor Landray had previously admitted he did not expect one single drug to treat coronavirus.

Just two months ago he said there was an ‘extraordinarily’ low chance of one of the five medicines being effective on its own.

And he claimed it was more likely a combination of several drugs will have ‘modest effect’ on patients.

Experimental Ebola drug remdesivir was the first medicine approved for coronavirus patients in Britain when it was approved by health chiefs at the end of May after a separate trial showed promising results.

Adults and teens battling severe bouts of Covid-19 will be allowed to get remdesivir if they fit specific criteria, officials announced. 

It made the drug, which destroys a part of the virus, the closest thing the NHS had to a cure or treatment for the life-threatening disease.    

Britain’s approval of remdesivir came three weeks after US bosses gave it the green light on May 1, putting the UK weeks behind once again.

Matt Hancock said at the time remdesivir was the ‘biggest step forward’ in treating Covid-19 since the outbreak spiralled out of control.

Studies have shown mixed results for remdesivir, with no firm proof that the drug can slash the risk of death in Covid-19 patients.

Until then, there were no drugs that had been approved specifically for the purpose of treating patients with Covid-19.

Doctors have tried to save people with serious infections by giving them oxygen therapy — such as through ventilators for the most sick.    

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