Results of a study conducted in the United Kingdom have been hailed as a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19. A University of Oxford study has shown that the drug, dexamethasone, has been proven to reduce one in eight deaths in critically ill patients on ventilators.

This is one of the world’s biggest trials investigating possible treatments of COVID-19 patients. The drug dexamethasone is locally produced by among others, Aspen Pharmacare.

CEO Stavros Nicolau says they are encouraged by the preliminary findings of one of their products which is available in multiple markets across the world.

Dexamethasone comes in a tablet form and as an injectable.

Nicolau says in South Africa it is only distributed as an injectable to be administered in hospital settings.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim on the efficiency of Dexamethasone in treating COVID-19: 

“We are a South African company. It’s nice that some of these potential new usage indications are coming out of a product that is owned by a SA company. So, it means that SA is playing its role in supporting the national and global COVID response. We will continue as Aspen to monitor the studies. These are preliminary findings and of course, we look forward with great interest as to the next set of results that come out.”

Doctor Nomathemba Chandiwana, a Research Clinician at Wits University described these results as a game changer in this epidemic.

“But, however, in SA we have other issues as well that we have to take these news in context. The first one is the number of ventilators we have available. We do not have that amount of ventilators we need should the virus reach the peak that it has been described. So, we also have to see that in context.”

A view also supported by Doctor Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He says there’s room to improve on the results.

“What we have to think about is, of course, this is on the background of providing very, very good intensive care support to patients in the UK. They have very well-resourced hospitals, well-resourced intensive care units and one of the issues here in SA is whether we are able to provide that same quality of care to then allow the drug to have that benefit in these patients.”

Marc Mendelson, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Cape Town, has welcomed the findings but is eager to see the full publication of the trial.

“There’s a lot of guarded optimism that this is an important factor, but this is not the full answer by any means. I mean it shows the reduction in mortality. I think what we are going to need is a number of different medicines to have maximum impact. The steroid doesn’t itself act on the virus and so, an antiviral that reduces mortality would be something that everyone is looking for.”

These results give hope to critically ill patients who are in intensive care units while other studies continue to find a vaccine and a cure for patients with less severe infection.

SABC Correspondent in London, Stuart Smith on the breakthrough drug: