The preliminary results of the study were announced on June 16, but they were not published until Monday in the medRxiv depository.
They have not yet been peer-reviewed.
Researchers said the RECOVERY trial “provides clear evidence” that treatment with dexamethasone, which is also a steroid, 6 mg once daily for up to 10 days, was found to reduce deaths in patients receiving oxygen by one-fifth and those on ventilators by one-third.
Based on these results, the drug would prevent one death of approximately eight patients on ventilators, and around 25 patients needing oxygen, researchers wrote. No benefit was seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients who do not need oxygen.
“Dexamethasone provides an effective treatment for the sickest patients with COVID-19 and, given its low cost, well understood safety profile, and widespread availability, is one that can be used worldwide,” researchers wrote.
The study, known as the RECOVERY Trial, enrolled 11,320 patients in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some 2,104 patients were randomly assigned to get the drug, while another 4,321 patients received usual care.
The mean age of study participants was 66.1 years and more than half of patients had at least one major comorbidity.
Around 15 percent of all UK hospitalized patients with COVID-19 were enrolled in the trial.
Without reliable evidence from large-scale randomized clinical trials, researchers noted a lot of uncertainty about the effectiveness of corticosteroids in COVID-19. However, corticosteroids have been widely used in syndromes closely related to COVID-19, including SARS, MERS, severe influenza, and community-acquired pneumonia, they wrote.
“It is likely that the beneficial effect of corticosteroids in severe viral respiratory infections is dependent on using the right dose, at the right time, in the right patient,” study authors wrote.
Prior to RECOVERY, many COVID-19 treatment guidelines stated that corticosteroids were either “contraindicated” or “not recommended” although in China, corticosteroids are recommended for severe cases, study authors noted.
The trial was conducted at 176 National Health Service (NHS) hospital organizations in the UK. The funding for the study was provided by the U.K. government, as well as private donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia contributed to this report.