A new analysis of several studies in which steroid drugs were used to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients found the drugs significantly helped reduce patient deaths, bolstering earlier, preliminary evidence for the benefit of these medications.
In multiple studies involving a total of 1,700 patients, a number of corticosteroids—anti-inflammatory drugs that can damp the effects of an overactive immune system—helped reduce deaths from COVID-19 by about a third, compared with patients who didn’t receive steroids, according to the analysis published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study, called a meta-analysis, was performed by scientists and physicians convened by the World Health Organization. The authors analyzed the results of seven studies, between February and June, that evaluated the use of the commonly used drugs dexamethasone, hydrocortisone and methylprednisolone. The study found relatively consistent benefits for using the drugs in severely ill patients: Of 678 severely ill patients who received steroids, 32.7% died, compared with 41.5% of patients receiving usual care or placebo.
Scientists and physicians involved in the meta-analysis said the results raise hope that cheap, widely available drugs may become standard treatments for severe cases of COVID-19. “This to me feels like one of the first unambiguous wins in trying to combat COVID-19,” co-author Derek C. Angus, a distinguished professor of critical-care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said in an interview.
He added that the results are especially encouraging because of the consistency of the benefit to patients seen across different types of steroids and should lead to wide acceptance of steroids as one line of treatment for COVID-19.
Dr. Angus cautioned that steroids appear to be beneficial only in the very sickest hospitalized patients. So far, no drugs have proven effective in treating earlier stages of the disease.