Exeter’s role in covid drug breakthrough


Game-changer tested on city patients

A cheap and readily available steroid found to reduce the risk of dying in patients admitted to hospital with the covid-19 which was part of a nationwide covid-19 trial included patients in Exeter.

The University of Exeter and the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RD&E) were among 175 NHS hospitals signed up to the Recovery trial, coordinated by Oxford University and delivered by the National Institute for Health Research, Clinical Research Network.  

The randomised clinical trial is testing a range of potential treatments that are already in use for other purposes, including a low dose of a steroid called dexamethasone.  A total of 2,104 patients were randomly assigned to take dexamethasone 6 mg once per day for ten days. They were compared with 4,321 patients randomised to usual care alone. Dexamethasone reduced the risk of dying by one-third in ventilated patients and by one fifth in other patients receiving oxygen only. There was no benefit among those who did not need respiratory support, meaning it has no use for people who have COVID-19 but were not admitted to hospital. Based on these results, one death would be prevented by treatment of just seven ventilated patients or 20 patients on oxygen.

Dr Ray Sheridan, clinical research fellow at the University of Exeter and consultant at the RD&E, set up the Recovery trial in Exeter. He said: “It’s fantastic to be involved in a trial that can save lives and to have identified a drug that is cheap and is already on our shelves, and available anywhere in the world. This large-scale trial has had an incredibly swift turnaround, which is only possible because of the incredible staff, research nurses and infrastructure of the NHS. We’re all hugely grateful to the patients who have agreed to take part in Recovery – they’re helping us to improve treatment and save lives.”

Dr Michael Gibbons, clinical director, NIHR Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula, said: “These findings are a game-changer in the search for therapies to treat covid-19; we now have a medicine with which to treat our patients, this is a massive step forward.  The search must now continue for further therapies that will provide additional benefit.  Importantly, these results demonstrate the benefit of research, randomised clinical trials, in generating knowledge and truth about the benefits or otherwise, of the treatments we use.  As a region, we must be proud of our contribution to this landmark study. Research in the COVID-19 era has highlighted the importance of team working across the clinical and research interface, and the need to embed research and clinical trials as a standard aspect of clinical care.”

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