People newly infected with COVID-19 might soon have access to what essentially is Tamiflu for the novel coronavirus, a breakthrough that experts say would drastically alter the course of the ongoing pandemic.
At least three contenders are vying to become the first antiviral pill that specifically targets COVID-19, according to reports from drug manufacturers.
Merck & Co.’s antiviral drug molnupiravir leapt into the lead on Friday. That’s when the company announced it will ask for quick U.S. approval for emergency use of their pill, after clinical trials showed it halved patients’ risk of hospitalization or death from COVID.
Around 7% of COVID patients treated with molnupiravir were either hospitalized or died within a month of taking the drug, compared with 14% of patients who received a placebo. The analysis was based on data from 775 patients who’d enrolled early in the trial.
The new medication is just one of several antiviral pills now being tested in studies, and experts say these medications could give doctors a powerful new weapon to battle the virus. Late-stage study results of two other antiviral pills, one developed by Pfizer and the other by Atea Pharmaceuticals and Roche, are expected within the next few months, The New York Times reported.
In the Merck trial, which was conducted entirely on unvaccinated patients to prove the medicine can reduce hospitalization and death, molnupiravir was taken twice a day for five days. Merck says that an independent board of experts monitoring its study data recommended that the trial be halted early because the drug’s benefits to patients were so convincing. The company adds that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agrees with that decision.
How will an antiviral pill protect you?
If they prove safe and effective, these drug candidates could keep people infected with COVID out of the hospital and prevent those around them from contracting the coronavirus, experts say.
“These are all drugs that in one way or another interfere with the multiplication of the virus,” Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the Bethesda, Md.-based National Foundation for Infectious Diseases says.