A cheap and widely available drug appears to help save the lives of patients seriously ill with COVID-19.

According to researchers in the UK, the steroid treatment dexamethasone is a major breakthrough in the fight against the coronavirus.

The drug is part of the world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus.

Scientists at the University of Oxford found dexamethasone cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth. About 19 out of 20 patients with coronavirus recover without being admitted to hospital.

Dexamethasone has been used since the early 1960s to treat a wide range of conditions,  including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and some skin conditions.

It’s also cheap and widely available. The treatment is up to 10 days of dexamethasone and it costs just over 6 dollars per patient. This could be a huge benefit in poorer countries with high numbers of COVID-19 patients.

Remdesivir, another drug being tried for COVID-19 patients, has limited supplies and is thought to be much more expensive.

But you shouldn’t go out and buy it to take on your own. The researchers observed dexamethasone doesn’t appear to help people with milder symptoms of coronavirus who don’t need help with their breathing. And we need to see these results replicated in more studies.

While a large percentage of patients have no symptoms or fairly mild cases of COVID-19, many patients become seriously ill, including the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions. Hopefully, dexamethasone proves to be a game-changer to improve their outcomes.