COVID-19 treatment pill proves effective in trial

Oct 1, 2021, 7:46 PM | Updated: 9:07 pm

MURRAY, Utah — Drugmaker Merck said it will seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for a pill that treats COVID-19.

Molnupiravir is a pill that would be taken as soon as a person starts to show symptoms of COVID-19, two times a day for five days.

Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious diseases physician and the chair of the Covid Therapeutics Committee at Intermountain Healthcare, said it could be available later this fall.

“We’ve heard the word game changer a lot during the course of the pandemic, but this one actually can be, or will be, a game changer,” he said.

The physician said the therapeutics committee has been looking forward to a widely accessible, effective, oral antiviral therapy since early in the pandemic.

“This is exciting,” Webb said. “We certainly need more tools in our toolbox. We look at this and all other treatments as complementary to vaccination and other preventive measures.”

Merck said Friday its trial data shows molnupiravir cut the risk of hospitalization and death by half.

As with other COVID treatments that are already approved, this pill needs to be taken early after symptoms appear.

Webb said a pill is so much easier logistically to administer than remdesivir or monoclonal antibodies, which have to be injected or administered by IV in a clinic.

“All of those barriers are overcome with an oral option,” Webb said. “That’s why we’re so excited about oral antiviral drugs, of which molnupiravir is one of three that are in the pipeline.”

At first, he said, once the drug is approved, it will be scarce and prioritized for the highest risk patients. But, he said, secondary prevention is never going to be as effective as primary prevention, which is the vaccine.

“These and all other therapies are not intended to be substitutes for vaccination,” the physician said.

The drug maker said it can make 10 million pills by the end of the year.

The United States has committed to purchase 1.7 million doses of the drug if it is authorized by the FDA.
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COVID-19 treatment pill proves effective in trial