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

Rep. Brooks: We need to better prepare for pandemics

Axios' Margaret Talev (L) and Rep. Susan Brooks (R). Photo: Axios

Insufficient stockpiles and a lack of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a warning for America on future preparedness, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) said at an Axios virtual event on Friday.

What they're saying: "Congress had been beefing up for years — the appropriations for preparedness — it certainly was not enough, and we recognize that," Brooks said.

Updated 16 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:15 p.m. ET: 30,611,684 — Total deaths: 953,820— Total recoveries: 20,836,867Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:15 p.m. ET: 6,756,781 — Total deaths: 199,090 — Total recoveries: 2,556,465 — Total tests: 93,150,052Map.
  3. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  4. Health: The dwindling chances of eliminating COVID-19.
  5. World: Guatemalan president tests positive for COVID-19 — The countries painting their pandemic recoveries green.
Sep 18, 2020 - Health

Rep. Khanna: COVID-19 could change the perception of public health care

Rep. Khanna and Axios' Margaret Talev

The universal experience of COVID-19 could change how opponents view Medicare for All, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said at an Axios virtual event on Friday.

What they're saying: "The pandemic has reminded us of our shared humanity with other American citizens. It's no longer possible to think, 'Oh, we're not part of those who get sick.' Now almost everyone knows, unfortunately, someone who has been hospitalized, someone who had a serious bout with COVID," Khanna said.