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

Jun 29, 2020 - Health

HHS secures 500,000 doses of remdesivir

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx and HHS Sec. Alex Azar

The Trump administration has secured 500,000 doses of remdesivir, the first drug shown to be effective at treating hospitalized coronavirus patients, ensuring these doses will be for U.S. use.

Between the lines: The administration is not directly purchasing the drug, but it will use coronavirus hospitalization data to determine how to allocate it by state, and state health departments will decide which hospitals will get the drug.

Updated 10 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 11,143,945 — Total deaths: 527,681 — Total recoveries — 6,004,593Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 2,818,588 — Total deaths: 129,584 — Total recoveries: 883,561 — Total tested: 34,213,497Map.
  3. States: Photos of America's pandemic July 4 ICU beds in Arizona's hot spot reach near capacity.
  4. Public health: U.S. coronavirus infections hit record highs for 3 straight days.
  5. Politics: Trump extends PPP application deadlineKimberly Guilfoyle tests positive.
  6. World: Mexican leaders call for tighter border control as infections rise in U.S.
  7. Sports: 31 MLB players test positive as workouts resume.
  8. 1 📽 thing: Drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback.
35 mins ago - Health

In photos: America celebrates July 4 during global pandemic

Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

The U.S. has already celebrated Easter, graduations and so much more during the coronavirus pandemic, and now it can add July 4 to the list.

The state of play: Axios' Stef Kight writes public parades and fireworks displays around much of the country are being canceled to prevent mass gatherings where the virus could spread. Hot-dog contests and concerts will play to empty stands and virtual audiences — all while American pride treads an all-time low.