Steroid ‘breakthrough’ raises COVID-19 hopes

Published June 16, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By AFP and Analou De Vera

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday hailed a “breakthrough” steroid treatment for the coronavirus, boosting hopes that pandemic deaths can be reduced, but a growing new cluster in China sparked fears of a second wave of infections.

Dexamethasone, an inexpensive, on the shelf drug is being used to treat COVID-19 patients (AFP/ MANILA BULLETIN)
Dexamethasone, an inexpensive, on the shelf drug is being used to treat COVID-19 patients (AFP/ MANILA BULLETIN)

Surging death tolls in the Americas and South Asia, plus a new cluster of cases in Beijing, have raised fresh doubts about how soon the world can bring the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) under control.

In the latest sign of the economic toll, US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned that the world’s biggest economy is unlikely to recover as long as there is “significant uncertainty” about the pandemic.

But news of the first proven effective treatment for COVID-19, a widely available steroid, gave cause for fresh hope.

“This is great news and I congratulate the Government of the UK, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the UK who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Researchers led by a team from the University of Oxford administered the drug, dexamethasone, to more than 2,000 severely ill COVID-19 patients.

Among those who could only breathe with the help of a ventilator, it reduced deaths by 35 percent.

“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide,” said Peter Horby, professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford.

Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said patients would start to receive the drug immediately.

Not a ‘magic pill’ – DOH

But the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) warned on Wednesday the public that dexamethasone is not a “magic pill” against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), adding that it still needs to undergo a thorough study.

Although they welcome the positive news about the steroid treatment dexamethasone – which is being touted as a breakthrough in treating COVID-19 – Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire reminded the public that there is still no developed cure for the dreaded illness.

“People might think that this is the ‘magic pill’ para sa [for] COVID, it is not,” Vergeire told reporters on Wednesday.

“We have to tell the people that they should not go to drugstores to buy this keep them from getting infected by COVID-19. Everybody should understand this,” she said in Filipino.

The Filipino health official noted that the current study being done for dexamethasone is still in the preliminary stage and that it still needs to go through a “peer review” process or the evaluation of other medical professionals to prove its efficacy.

Vergeire explained also noted that low dose of dexamethasone is found to be only effective to those with severe or critical cases of COVID-19, citing the study in the United Kingdom.

“They used this on people with severe and critical cases – those in need of oxygen or are on ventilators,” she said.

“We should remember that according to the study – they only use it for severe and critical (cases) – that is where it worked,” she added.

In a related development, Vergeire said the Fabunan antiviral injection (FAI) should not be considered as an effective cure for COVID-19 although it contains dexamethasone.

Vergeire said that the FAI remains unregistered with the Food and Drug Administration.

“You have to register your product, they also need to register their product to have it undergo clinical trial to prove its efficacy. But until now, they have not yet submitted their application,” said Vergeire.