Will dexamethasone be the next hydroxychloroquine?

June 18, 2020

In the fight against the coronavirus, dexamethasone is experiencing a sudden rise to fame. This week, a study from the UK grabbed headlines after showing that the generic steroid that’s been around since the 60s could reduce the incidence of death in some coronavirus patients. 

According to the UK study, the anti-inflammatory treatment cut the chances of death for patients on ventilators by about one-third, making it the first drug to ever show promise in decreasing mortality for severely ill COVID-19 patients. 

Despite the promising results, top health officials around the world are also quickly urging caution. Among the concerns is a lack of data. The study released in the UK has not been peer-reviewed and did not include all of the results. However, the authors said they are working to publish more details.

Other health officials have pointed out that using steroids on coronavirus patients can be dangerous because they can suppress the immune system, making patients susceptible to other infections.

Health officials also now know that overhyping a drug as a potential coronavirus treatment can ultimately go wrong. Although the news about dexamethasone is providing hope, it also comes as hydroxychloroquine continues its sudden fall from grace. In the spring, after the anti-malaria drug pushed by President Trump as a potential “game changer,” hydroxychloroquine became a new go-to treatment — until study results began showing that it was not only ineffective, but was sometimes linked to higher chances of death. Now, hundreds of clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine are being dropped around the world and the FDA has revoked its Emergency Use approval for the drug.

To better understand the potential of dexamethasone, the WHO said it is organizing a meta-analysis of the drug. The UK’s health minister said the country has already approved the use of dexamethasone, and is increasing its stockpile of the drug and restricting exports.   

But leaders around the EU said they will wait for results about dexamethasone and further guidance.