Dexamethasone significantly increases the survival rate of coronavirus patients, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said, after trial results showed that the low-cost drug saved lives in a third of the most severe cases.

The University of Oxford announced on Tuesday that dexamethasone reduced death rates by around a third in patients who could only breathe with the help of a ventilator, and by 20 percent in patients requiring supplemental oxygen.

“It does increase your chances of survival quite significantly,” Hancock told Sky News on Wednesday, calling it “one of the best pieces of news we’ve had through this whole crisis.”

The benefits of the drug, however, were not observed in patients with milder symptoms.

Later in the day, Hancock said that the UK had been stockpiling the inexpensive drug since March “because we spotted the early signs of the potential of dexamethasone.” Now, frontline doctors will start administering it immediately to coronavirus patients. 

Dexamethasone has been used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in other diseases such as arthritis and certain cancers.

This week, the WHO endorsed the Oxford study, with Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying it was “the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality” in severely-ill Covid-19 patients. The organization has updated coronavirus treatment guidance to inform clinicians of the promising find.

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