New studies clarify what drugs help, hurt for COVID-19

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Photo credit FILE - This Tuesday, June 16, 2020 file photo shows a bottle and box for dexamethasone in a pharmacy in Omaha, Neb. On Friday, July 17, 2020, British researchers published a report on the only drug shown to improve survival -- the inexpensive steroid dexamethasone. Two other studies found that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine does not help people with only mild coronavirus symptoms. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Fresh studies give more information about what treatments do or don’t work for COVID-19, with high-quality methods that give reliable results.

British researchers on Friday published their research on the only drug shown to improve survival -- a cheap steroid called dexamethasone. Two other studies found that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine does not help people with only mild symptoms.

For months before studies like these, learning what helps or harms has been undermined by “desperation science” as doctors and patients tried therapies on their own or through a host of studies not strong enough to give clear answers.

“For the field to move forward and for patients’ outcomes to improve, there will need to be fewer small or inconclusive studies” and more like the British one, Drs. Anthony Fauci and H. Clifford Lane of the National Institutes of Health wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It’s now time to do more studies comparing treatments and testing combinations, said Dr. Peter Bach, a health policy expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Here are highlights of recent treatment developments:

DEXAMETHASONE

The British study, led by the University of Oxford, tested a type of steroid widely used to tamp down inflammation, which can become severe and prove fatal in later stages of COVID-19.

About 2,104 patients given the drug were compared to 4,321 patients getting usual care.