A DRUG being hailed by scientists as the first major breakthrough in the fight against coronavirus has already helped save lives at Whiston Hospital, it can be revealed.

The Recovery Trial, based at Oxford University, was launched in March to trial existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus.

It is the biggest randomised controlled trial of drugs against COVID-19 in the world.

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One of the first drugs to be included in the trial was a cheap and widely available steroid called dexamethasone, which is used to reduce inflammation in other diseases.

More than 11,500 patients have been enrolled on the trial from 176 acute hospitals in the UK, including Whiston Hospital.

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The results showed that the drug has reduced deaths for the sickest patients by up to a third.

This means dexamethasone is the first drug that has shown to improve survival in patients who have contracted. COVID-19.

“This is an extremely welcome result,” said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, and one of the chief investigators for the trial.

“The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients.

“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”

St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (STHK), which runs Whiston, St Helens and Newton hospitals, has recorded 204 coronavirus-related deaths to date.

During the early stages of the outbreak, the trust’s research team began to recruit patients for the Recovery Trial.

The outcome of this has seen reduced death rates among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital.

The risk for patients placed on ventilators was cut by a third, the trust said, and the risk for patients on oxygen was reduced by a fifth.

Jeanette Anders, research development and innovation manager at the trust, said: “The clinical research team first became involved in the Recovery Trial during the early stages of the outbreak, recruiting our first patient on the 2nd April.

“The study saw a fantastic effort from teams across the trust.

“Lead by our research team, staff from the respiratory team, pharmacy department, acute medical unit, and ward staff were all committed to supporting this vital work.”

Following the trial, the NHS will now make dexamethasone available to patients.

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Jeanette added: “Here at STHK we are committed to taking on this challenge and are doing everything we can to ensure that our patients have the opportunity to take part in this important research, leading to improved treatment options and better outcomes for our patients.”

Martin Landray is the professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford and was one of the chief investigators on the Recovery Trial.

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He said: “Since the appearance of COVID-19 six months ago, the search has been on for treatments that can improve survival, particularly in the sickest patients.

“These preliminary results from the Recovery trial are very clear – dexamethasone reduces the risk of death among patients with severe respiratory complications.

“COVID-19 is a global disease – it is fantastic that the first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide.”