Demand for the generic drug dexamethasone has surged in a matter of days since researchers in the U.K. reported that the steroid reduced deaths in very sick Covid-19 patients, according to a major drug-purchasing firm.
Orders for dexamethasone surpassed 2.8 million last week as the University of Oxford released study results on June 16, up from nearly 397,500 the prior week, which was more typical, according to Vizient Inc., one of the largest group-purchasing organizations in the U.S. for hospitals. On the day the study was released, demand rose 167%, according to Vizient.
Steve Lucio, vice president of pharmacy solutions at Irving, Texas-based Vizient, attributed the demand to the study, which is resulting in higher use of the drug to treat Covid-19 patients and hospitals planning ahead for use in the future.
“If people were not previously utilizing dexamethasone, if they were trying to be a little more judicious in their use of steroids, they probably are now considering the use of that product,” he said.
Demand for several drugs such as sedatives used to treat Covid-19 patients has increased, and availability has fluctuated, during the coronavirus pandemic, according to group-purchasing organizations.
Dexamethasone was the first drug to show in a clinical trial that it could improve the survival of severely ill coronavirus patients, according to University of Oxford researchers who led the 6,425-subject study.
The researchers first issued the results in a press statement, not a peer-reviewed article in a medical journal. More recently, the researchers posted the findings on a preprint server, and they still haven’t been peer-reviewed.
The drug reduced deaths by a third compared with standard treatment in patients on ventilators, the researchers said in the study. In patients receiving supplemental oxygen, but not on ventilators, the steroid cut deaths by one-fifth, according to the researchers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of a different drug, remdesivir from
Gilead Sciences Inc.,
because it was shown in a trial to speed up the recovery time of hospitalized Covid-19 patients.
The FDA hasn’t greenlighted the use of dexamethasone for treating Covid-19 patients, and hospitals have taken different positions on whether to incorporate the drug into care, industry officials say.
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston revised its treatment protocol Wednesday to recommend dexamethasone for patients with severe Covid-19 who require supplemental oxygen, while continuing to advise against use in patients with mild or moderate symptoms.
“At the moment, we feel the data are strong enough to recommend” dexamethasone in severe patients, said Arthur Kim, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General. “It’s really the first therapy to show specifically a clear survival benefit.”
Dexamethasone can be injected or taken as a pill, both of which were tested by the Oxford researchers.
Demand has spiked so much since the Oxford researchers released their findings that the drug’s makers have been able to fill only about half of hospital orders on time, Vizient said. Typically, orders are always filled on time, according to Vizient.
There have been supply pressures on dexamethasone since 2011, though enough companies make it that hospitals have had adequate stores for non-coronavirus treatment, said Erin Fox of the University of Utah Drug Information Service.
The FDA lists the injectable form of dexamethasone as in shortage.
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