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Dexamethasone is on the World Health Organization's "essential medicines" list. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

The new best hope for treating seriously ill coronavirus patients may come from a synthetic steroid that has been around for roughly 60 years.

Why it matters: Because it's an old, inexpensive drug, dexamethasone may have a leg up on remdesivir and other new, potentially costly treatments — especially if they don't work as well.

Driving the news: British researchers said yesterday that dexamethasone helped save seriously ill coronavirus patients' lives in a randomized, controlled trial.

  • The steroid significantly reduced the risk of death among patients who were on a ventilator, and showed more limited benefit for patients who were on supplemental oxygen, according to the researchers' press release. It showed no benefit for mild cases.

Between the lines: Some physicians and researchers, including Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan Kettering, say dexamethasone now seems more promising than remdesivir — the only other drug that has been shown to help treat coronavirus.

  • Dexamethasone appears to save lives, and is most effective with severe cases. Remdesivir only shortens hospitalizations and is most effective for less severe cases.
  • Dexamethasone also is available as an oral tablet, whereas remdesivir is an IV medication.
  • And dexamethasone only costs about 50 cents per tablet, according to drug pricing research firm 46brooklyn, while Wall Street analysts believe Gilead may put a $5,000 price tag on each course of remdesivir.

Yes, but: Yesterday's encouraging news was another example of what Politico described as "science by press release" — a persistent problem during this pandemic.

  • Many researchers said it's difficult to call dexamethasone a winner yet, given the amount of misinformation and retractions that have come out with other coronavirus treatments.
  • The British researchers said they are "working to publish the full details as soon as possible."

Go deeper

Coronavirus cases rise in 22 states

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Note: Texas added a backlog of cases on Sept. 22, removing that from the 7-day average Texas' cases increased 28.3%; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

The coronavirus is surging once again across the U.S., with cases rising in 22 states over the past week.

The big picture: There isn't one big event or sudden occurrence that explains this increase. We simply have never done a very good job containing the virus, despite losing 200,000 lives in just the past six months, and this is what that persistent failure looks like.

Sep 25, 2020 - Health

Young people accounted for 20% of coronavirus cases this summer

Hundreds of beachgoers pack in without social distancing in July. Photo: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

People in their 20s accounted for more than 20% of all COVID-19 cases between June and August, analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, bringing the median age of coronavirus patients to 37, down from 46 in the spring.

Why it matters: Young people are less vulnerable to serious illness, but they contributed to community spread over the summer, the analysis says — meaning they likely infected older, higher-risk people, especially in the South.

Updated Oct 7, 2020 - Health

World coronavirus updates

Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand now has active no coronavirus cases in the community after the final six people linked to the Auckland cluster recovered, the country's Health Ministry confirmed in an email Wednesday.

The big picture: The country's second outbreak won't officially be declared closed until there have been "no new cases for two incubation periods," the ministry said. Auckland will join the rest of NZ in enjoying no domestic restrictions from late Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, declaring that NZ had "beat the virus again."