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U.S. demand outstripping supply of steroid treatment for COVID

By Michael Erman

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Soaring hospital demand for the steroid dexamethasone, which British researchers say significantly reduces mortality among severely ill COVID-19 patients, is outstripping supply of the drug, but hospitals have so far been able to treat patients out of their inventories, according to Vizient Inc, a drug buyer for about half of U.S. hospitals.

Hospitals and other health-care customers advised by Vizient increased orders of the drug by more than 600% after the researchers announced their findings last week. Manufacturers were only able to fill around half of those orders, Vizient said.

"What we're hearing from our members is that they are able to treat the patients who do require dexamethasone - they are treating them and they have product," Steven Lucio, vice president of pharmacy solutions at Vizient, said in an interview. "The concern is, Can the market continue to sustain this?"

Vizient's data shows that hospitals are increasingly putting the drug into use to treat COVID-19 patients, confirming what several U.S. hospitals in hard-hit parts of the country told Reuters last week.

According to Oxford University researchers, dexamethasone reduced death rates by nearly a third among COVID-19 patients requiring mechanical breathing assistance.

The injectable version of dexamethasone has been in shortage in the U.S. since February of last year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Still, German drugmaker Fresenius SE's Kabi unit - by far the largest supplier to the U.S. market - says it has good inventory on hand of the steroid and is ramping up production in three of its U.S. factories to meet the surging demand.

"Fresenius Kabi is confident we can meet customers’ needs with COVID-related medicines such as dexamethasone," spokesman Matthew Kuhn said in an email.

(Reporting by Michael Erman; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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