Incredible role Gloucestershire NHS played in covid-19 beating drug trials revealed

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 23 June 2020 8:52

That otherwise innocuous steroid Dexamethasone can help patients slip the worst clutches of covid-19 is world-wide headline news, but few know Gloucestershire was a key player in the discovery. 

If it was a company involved in such wonderfully positive news its public relations departments would have overheated, but this is the NHS and these are medics – and their enthusiasm starts with being able to help and they are satisfied at having helped us. 

Which perhaps explains why when credit rightly went to Oxford University, which led the Recovery trial, the medical team from Gloucestershire – just one part of what was the largest randomized clinical trial in the world - was already back at work. 

The Raikes Journal asked nicely and Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust agreed to give us some insight into its incredible life-saving work - its modestly overwhelming in the context of its achievements. 

Chantal Sunter, Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust head of research and development, told The Raikes Journal: “The government announcement earlier this week that dexamethasone has been approved to treat all UK hospitalised COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen felt like a real breakthrough, not just for the treatment of COVID but also the world of clinical research.

"The huge recovery trial which led to this announcement is testing existing treatments for their effectiveness against covid-19 and has over 11,600 patients to date and we are immensely proud that Gloucestershire Hospitals (NHS Foundation Trust) has been able to play a part in this.  

"Led locally by principal investigator Dr Charlie Sharp and supported by a host of research staff and departments, this is a real-life example of research in action; from concept to practice within a few months, when normally this process would take years. 

“We are hugely grateful to all the staff and patients who have been involved in supporting this ground-breaking study which will have real benefits for our patients.”

Dr Sharp said: "It’s clear from other viral pneumonias there are not any specific treatments to help patients so it is very important we find specific treatments as quickly as possible and the opportunity to become involved in the study came up and we leapt at the chance. 

“It is the only opportunity there is to try any treatments which might change and improve patient outcomes. This is a unique study."

A Tweet since sent by Dr Sharp should perhaps be repeated here - that is is important to note the drug is strictly "not for community use", and may even be harmful. The only benefit shown us to those on oxygen being treated in hospital.

Mr Richard Bulbulia, a consultant vascular surgeon, said: “What we need, while waiting for a vaccine, is if you are unlucky enough to get admitted to a hospital with covid-19, are effective treatments to reduce your chances of ending up on a ventilator or dying. 

"I have been involved in clinical research for over 20 years and the Recovery trial is remarkable. The manual for the trial was written in a day and the approval acquiredreally quickly - and nine days after the first protocols were written the first patient was randomised. That is incredible. It usually takes years or longer”.


The recovery trials found that a low-dose of dexamethasone reduced the mortality rates of the sickest patients. 

Some 2,104 patients received 6 mg of dexamethasone once a day with 4,321 patients receiving usual care – representing the control group. 

The study found a significant drop in mortality rates among those who received the steroid. 

Even more significantly, the mortality rate in patients on ventilators fell from 41 per cent to 28 per cent. 

Among patients who required oxygen support only deaths were reduced by a fifth. 

The joy at the discover has already led to reports the domestic drug manufacturers (Dexamethasone is mostly made in India) are bracing themselves for an increase in the prices of the ingredients in what was until a steroid that has been in existence since the last 1950s. 

Indian manufacturers depend on imports of the basic raw ingredients for the drug - corticosteroids used to treat lung and respiratory - from China. 

While back in Gloucestershire staff are already back at work doing what they do best, in Ahmedabad, India-based pharmaceutical maker Cadila Healthcare has seen its stock price soar 51 per cent. 

It seems likely the sales of Dexamethasone and the price of the company’s shares will prove more stable for it than for one of its other product, hydroxychloroquine. 

Donald Trump’s vocal support of the drug saw the company ramp up production from three tonnes to between 20 and 30 tonnes, according to reports. 

And then the FDA pulled its emergency approval for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as COVID-19 treatments on June 15, stating that the risks outweigh the benefits.