News that steroid drug can cut coronavirus deaths is 'exciting' but expert is still cautious

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(CNN) - Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said it is “exciting” to hear news that the steroid drug dexamethasone can prevent coronavirus deaths, but he said people should be cautious about responding to findings reported via news release.

British researchers reported earlier Tuesday that the cheap and widely available steroid drug dexamethasone reduce the risk of death by a third among hospitalized patients. They have yet to publish the details of their findings in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

“All the excitements needs to be curtailed by those limitations,” Jha said during webcast sponsored by the online publication STAT News. “But let's just sort of suspend disbelief… steroids make a lot of sense for this disease, and they clinically and sort of pathophysiology make sense that they would be effective.”

Jha said as opposed to the antiviral drug remdesivir, dexamethasone is already widely available in pharmacies and hospitals around the world, “so it is a drug that can be used pretty quickly, pretty effectively, pretty cheaply – and that is huge in potentially saving lives.”

Jha warned there are a lot of limitations without seeing the complete study. “With a press release I literally have nothing. I have, like, the two lines of data that they decided to throw in, and no other information,” he said.

“The classic argument is that there's a tradeoff between speed — it's a lifesaving drug — versus being thorough. It doesn't actually take that much time to take what they have, and turn it into a pre-print that they could put on a server — probably a couple of days,” he said.

“It'd be much, much better if they just put out some tables figures and a bit more detailed methodology.”

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