Auckland doctor says 'jaw dropping' new COVID-19 drug has 'considerable promise'

There's been a breakthrough in the fight against coronavirus that could save hundreds of thousands of lives, but a Kiwi medical professional is remaining cautiously optimistic.

Doctors in England have discovered the first drug that dramatically reduces deaths in COVID-19 patients and it turns out it's already on the market.

The medicine dexamethasone is a standard anti-inflammatory which is normally used to treat common diseases like arthritis. 

Intensive Care Specialist Dr Colin Mcarthur says it is showing "considerable promise".

"I think we can say we're cautiously optimistic." 

Dr McArthur works at Auckland City Hospital and says while similar steroid medication was used on New Zealand's sickest COVID-19 patients, there's no way to tell if it would've saved lives here. 

"We had very few patients that were on mechanical ventilation so I think it's an unknown."  

With the global death toll nearing half a million there is a genuine cause to celebrate, because as well as being effective, at just one cent a tablet it's also affordable.

It has already been tested in a British recovery trial and participant Derrick Slack says, "it may well have saved my life".

"I was in hospital, for the first two-three days I was ill..  and I don't say that lightly... after the second day, third day I was going 'what is this stuff?'" 

The trial was designed to test drugs that hospitals already have in their pharmacies as it was seen as the fastest way to help COVID-19 patients.

University Of Oxford's Professor Peter Horby says "jaws dropped" when they saw the result of the drug.

"If we had known this four or five months ago we would've saved tens of thousands of lives probably." 

The drug only benefits higher risk patients needing respiratory help in hospital.

But for those needing oxygen alone, the risk of death is cut from 25 percent to 20 percent - meaning one in 25 deaths is prevented.

For patients on ventilators, the risk is cut more from 41 percent to 28 percent-  that's one in eight deaths prevented.