The generic steroid, Dexamethasone, which is usually administered in low doses is the next drug on the list of several being used in clinical trials to find a vaccine or cure for COVID-19 which has caused over 4.8 lakh deaths worldwide. A commonly used anti-inflammatory drug for the treatment of diseases like arthritis, dexamethasone has shown to reduce one-third of the mortality rate for patients on ventilator support and one-fifth of the rate for patients requiring oxygen.
The information regarding the success of the drug in the case of severely affected patients gathered through one of the several RECOVERY (Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy) trials conducted by Oxford University, was declared in a press release on June 16.
On June 17, the United Kingdom (UK) Government approved the usage of the steroid to treat those severely affected by the virus and the Department of Health approved its usage.
How effective is Dexamethasone in treating COVID-19 patients?
Dexamethasone is a medical drug that falls under the family of corticosteroids which imitate the human hormone, cortisol. It is used to treat inflammation or damage in the body, commonly caused due to a dysfunctional immune system. The drug is capable of healing kidney, lung, or eye inflammation and treat diseases like arthritis or lupus.
A generic medicine that is cost-effective, Dexamethasone is a significant breakthrough in the lookout for a cure for the coronavirus. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is effective only in some instances where the virus has severely inflamed a patient’s lungs, or the patient is dependent on ventilators or external supply of oxygen. It is not advised for patients suffering from a milder affliction of the virus as it could lead to harmful side-effects.
According to a news report in Business Today, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at WHO, said that while the results are significant enough to change WHO guidelines, several other trials are going on as well. Since this was just a press release, and the actual data is expected to come later this month, information from all the trials will be gathered and put together before making significant changes to the guidelines.
The report further stated that the effectiveness of the drug was not a surprise to Indian doctors as a few of them were already prescribing it to their patients.
“It is a very commonly used drug, inexpensive too, and is probably being used by the doctors in a different part of the world on critically ill patients. What makes a difference now is that you have the evidence that it affects,” confirmed Dr Swaminathan to Business Today.
Other Drugs on Trial
As Dr Swaminathan had mentioned, there are at least another ten undergoing trial under RECOVERY, with medical researchers trying several other authorized drugs commonly used to treat other infections on COVID-19 patients.
The human-challenge method, where people volunteer to willingly be infected with the coronavirus and be part of a trial testing for a new vaccine, is being carried out by 1DaySooner. It is a group that works on behalf of the people supporting the controversial method of research.
Over thousands of people have lined up for such trials, which are useful in countries where the number of diseased people has gone down, making it difficult to test on patients. Most of the volunteers are from countries like Brazil that have been severely affected by the disease.
Some of the repurposed vaccines used in the trials are the polio vaccine and the Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN), which is used to treat tuberculosis. Several studies point towards previously used vaccines being effective against newer viruses and Indian doctors and researchers also feel this is one of the safest ways to find an immediate cure to the coronavirus.
In a recent Hindustan Times report, Hydroxychloroquine, the malaria vaccine, which was advocated by the US President Donald Trump and previously declared ineffective in stopping deaths by WHO might be useful in preventing the infection, according to Dr Swaminathan. She also mentions that whether the drug has a role in decreasing the severity of the illness in early stages or whether it can be used to prevent its onset is still unclear.
Remdesivir, another drug that has been approved for ‘restricted emergency use’ by the Drug Controller General of India for severely affected patients- relying on oxygen support. Remdesivir is an anti-viral therapy created by Gilead Sciences, which holds the patent. The company received permission to market and import the drug in India and has already got requests from Six pharmaceutical companies to manufacture it in the country.
Dexamethasone in the Indian market
Dexamethasone, which is on the WHO’s essential list, is a common drug manufactured and exported by Indian Companies. The market leader is Zydus Cadila, who owns 83 per cent of the market share, followed by Wockhardt, Sun Pharma, Cipla, and Glenmark, among others. There are said to be at least 20 established brands selling the drug in India, in both tablet and injection forms.
In tablet form, it is available for a cost of less than Rs 3 per a strip of ten tablets. The injections cost around Rs 10 for a dose of 2 ml. It is also readily available and listed in online pharmacy sites like Netmeds.