Experimental pill for home treatment of COVID-19 passes clinical trials

October 4, 2021
Experimental pill for home treatment of COVID-19 passes clinical trials

An investigational oral antiviral treatment for SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to significantly reduce a person’s risk of hospitalisation or death from COVID-19, according to clinical trials conducted by pharmaceutical giant Merck, referred to as MSD outside of the US and Canada.

The oral drug known as molnupiravir, which works by inhibiting the replication of SARS-CoV-2, was most effective when taken within five days of symptoms appearing: the drug was found to reduce rates of hospitalisation or death by 50% compared to placebo in a cohort of 1,550 patients at high-risk of severe COVID-19. In one group, only 28 out of the 385 patients taking molnupiravir ended up in hospital with COVID-19, compared to 53 of the 377 patients in the placebo group. Even more significantly, none of the hospitalised molnupiravir patients died, while eight deaths were recorded in the placebo group.

While the interim data from Merck points out that no adverse effects have been detected in the cohort trialled, full details of how the drug interacts with different people is not yet available.

“We are optimistic that molnupiravir can become an important medicine as part of the global effort to fight the pandemic and will add to Merck’s unique legacy of bringing forward breakthroughs in infectious diseases when they are needed most,” said Robert Davis, CEO of Merck.

“Consistent with Merck’s unwavering commitment to save and improve lives, we will continue to work with regulatory agencies on our applications and do everything we can to bring molnupiravir to patients as quickly as possible.”

Read: Leading Malaysian university starts Tocilizumab (Actemra) clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment

The company plans to submit an emergency use authorisation to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) very soon. The US government has already pre-ordered 1.7 million courses of the drug – a five-day course of molnupiravir is estimated to cost around US$700 (RM2,920).

However, Peter English, former chair of the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, alluded to the fact that molnupiravir must be cheap and readily available at the earliest sign of infection to be useful.

“In my opinion, these drugs might have a role IF you can first identify people at risk of more serious disease,” said English. “Unless an antiviral medication could be made so cheap and so safe that it can be used “on spec” by people who might have COVID-19, they are unlikely to be widely useful.”

Merck has said that it will implement a tiered pricing policy to make sure the drug is accessible to low-income countries.

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Category: Features, Pharmaceuticals

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