LONDON — Scientists at the University of Oxford said on Tuesday that they had identified what they called the first drug proven to reduce coronavirus-related deaths, after a 6,000-patient trial in Britain showed that a low-cost steroid could reduce deaths significantly for hospitalized patients.
The steroid, dexamethasone, reduced deaths by a third in patients receiving ventilation, and by a fifth in patients receiving only oxygen treatment, the scientists said. They found no benefit from the drug for patients who did not need respiratory support.
Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary, said doctors in the country’s National Health Service would begin treating patients with the drug Tuesday afternoon.
The government started stockpiling dexamethasone several months ago because it was hopeful about the potential of the drug, Mr. Hancock said, and now has 200,000 doses on hand.
“Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in Covid-19,” one of the chief investigators for the trial, Peter Horby, who is a professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. “The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment.”
Professor Horby said that dexamethasone should now become the “standard of care in these patients,” noting that it was inexpensive, widely available and could be used immediately.