New coronavirus treatment to be distributed across UK

Jun 17 2020, 3:04 pm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently indicated to residents and citizens that he remains committed to his plans of finding a “long-term solution” to COVID-19 through the development of a vaccine or treatment.

“I am delighted that the biggest breakthrough yet has been made by a fantastic team of scientists right here in the UK,” Johnson stated in a press conference on Tuesday. “I am so proud of these British scientists, backed by UK government funding, who have led the first robust clinical trial anywhere in the world to find a coronavirus treatment proven to reduce the risk of death.”

The treatment that Johnson is referring to is the drug dexamethasone, a type of corticosteroid medication. Corticosteroids are a class of drugs that decreases inflammation in the body while reducing immune system activity. They are often used to treat conditions such as arthritis and asthma.

In the press conference, Johnson expressed his gratitude for the “thousands” of patients across the UK that volunteered to participate in the “recovery trial” surrounding the drug.

“This drug – dexamethasone – can now be made available across the NHS,” he explained. “And we have taken steps to ensure we have enough supplies, even in the event of a second peak.”

Johnson continues that the probability of dying from coronavirus has been “significantly reduced” by being treated with this drug but that death toll numbers still remain too high, prompting him to say that authorities will be doubling their research efforts.

“This is tremendous news today from the Recovery trial showing that dexamethasone is the first drug to reduce mortality from COVID-19,” said Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, in a statement. “This is particularly exciting as this is an inexpensive widely available medicine.”

According to a press release issued by the UK Department of Health and Social Care, the trials indicated that the drug saved lives by substantially reducing the risk of death in hospitalized patients requiring oxygen as well as those on ventilators.

“The drug has been proven to reduce the risk of death significantly in COVID-19 patients on ventilation by as much as 35% and patients on oxygen by 20%, reducing the total 28-day mortality rate by 17%,” the release states.

These trials were funded by the government via a variety of institutions, including the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and Oxford University. With more than 177,000 patients enrolled, it is the “largest randomized clinical trial anywhere in the world,” the release details.

The UK government has also begun securing supplies of dexamethasone by purchasing additional stocks in advance should trial outcomes continue to be positive. It has also been added to the parallel export list, which forbids companies from purchasing medicines intended for patients in the UK and selling them in other countries for more money.

However, while the results have proven promising, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam is urging the public to not get their hopes up too high.

“Whilst tempting to do otherwise, it is always better to wait for the evidence,” he explains. “On the dexamethasone findings, this is very encouraging because the signal on reduced mortality applies to many of the patients admitted to hospitals and the drug is comparatively low priced and available worldwide.”

Van-Tam also stated that the data has yet to be peer-reviewed.

Throughout the pandemic, the UK government has been supporting research initiatives with millions of pounds of funding dedicated to the facilitation of clinical trials, including £2.1 million (CAD $3.6 million) for the recovery trial.

The UK is continuing to lift its lockdown restrictions and adjust for the next steps, including easing limitations surrounding the hospitality and leisure sector that will come “no later” than July 4.

According to Johns Hopkins University, as of Wednesday, June 17, there are 300,717 confirmed known cases of coronavirus in the United Kingdom.