Researchers at Torbay Hospital have made a ‘significant contribution’ to national research which has proved a steroid can help save the lives of patients seriously ill with coronavirus.

The trials of the low-cost dexamethasone, which is said to be a major breakthrough in the treatment of the virus, were joined by members of the South West Peninsula Clinical Research Network, including Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.

The drug reduces death by up to one third in hospitalised patients with severe respiratory complications of Covid-19 and part of a worldwide trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work on Covid-19.

The trusts’ teams joined the trial named Recovery, of the drug, led by Oxford University, as one of 175 hospitals taking part which enrolled more than 11,500 patients in the UK.

The steroid cut the risk of death by a third for Covid patients on ventilators and by one fifth for those on oxygen treatment.

Dr Tom Clark, consultant anaesthetist, study lead for Torbay and South Devon, said: “Contributing to large-scale research studies has always been vital to understand what treatments are best to help patients and this has never been so true as during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Torbay Hospital has made a significant contribution to this study and I have been very impressed with the professionalism and work ethic of the whole research term, including the research and development staff, research nursing team and ward doctors without whom we could not have facilitated recruitment into this study.

“This is an on-going study that is testing other drugs and we hope future results will also be positive.”

Dr Fiona Roberts, Torbay and South Devon research and development director, said: “This is really exciting news and great that Torbay has been part of this pivotal and ground-breaking trial. Research is a vital strand of the national strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.”

The UK Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said: “This is a ground-breaking development in our fight against the disease, and the speed at which researchers have progressed finding an effective treatment is truly remarkable. It shows the importance of doing high quality clinical trials.”