Dexamethasone, a cheap and widely available drug, can help save the lives of patients seriously ill with coronavirus.

The anti-inflammatory drug is used in the treatment of arthritis, blood, hormone and immune system disorders, allergic reactions, certain skin and eye conditions, breathing problems, certain bowel disorders, and certain cancers.

Dexamethasone cuts the risk of death by a third for coronavirus patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth.

In the trial, led by a team from Oxford University, about 2,000 hospital patients were given dexamethasone and compared with more than 4,000 who were not.

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

For patients needing oxygen, it cut the risk of death from 25 per cent to 20 per cent.

“This is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly. It’s a major breakthrough,” chief investigator Professor Peter Horby said.

However, the drug does not appear to help people with milder symptoms of coronavirus who do not need help with their breathing.

The drug is part of the world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they can also work for coronavirus

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