Merck's Antiviral COVID Pill Cuts Risk of Deaths by Half: What is it?

Merck has also announced that they plan on seeking an EUA for their antiviral COVID-19 oral pills in the US soon.

Merck's Antiviral COVID Pill Cuts Risk of Deaths by Half: What is it?

On Friday, 1 October, American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. announced that their experimental COVID oral pill successfully reduces the chance of hospitalisation and death by half.

The company is confident of the pill's effectiveness and plans on applying for an EUA (emergency use authorisation) from the US FDA (Food and Drugs Administration).

If it is approved, Merck's molnupiravir would become the world's first oral antiviral COVID-19 medication to come into use.


Key Points of the Study

On Friday, the company along with its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics released a statement outlining the phase 3 clinical trial results of the pill, which is currently underway.

Before we look at the key findings presented by them, it must be noted that these are only interim results and are yet to be peer reviewed.

  • The study was conducted on 775 participants who had mild to moderate COVID-19 with symptom onset within 5 days of study randomisation.

  • The aim was to see how effective the medicine would be at preventing the illness from escalating.

  • The study found that only 7.3 percent of patients who received Molnupiravir were hospitalised, compared to the 14.1 Percent in the Placebo group who were hospitalised or died.

  • The medicine was also found to be consistently effective in the case of variants Gamma, Delta, and Mu.

How Does It Work?

Molnupiravir is a treatment oral pill meant to be taken by those who have already been infected by COVID and are at risk of developing serious illness. It essentially works by inhibiting the replication of SARS-CoV-2, which means it stops the virus from multiplying and spreading in the body.

Merck's Antiviral COVID-19 Pill

Although many experimental treatments like Remdesivir and HCQ have been touted to be affective in stopping COVID it its tracks, most fall from grace eventually.

So far, the few COVID antibody treatments that have been approved for use in the US, including Roche's antibody cocktail is the only COVID treatment has to taken intravenously.

Merck's antiviral COVID-19 pill, in that sense could be a game changer believe experts.

"An oral antiviral that can impact hospitalisation risk to such a degree would be game-changing," said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security to Reuters.

Apart from its effectiveness in preventing severe illness and death, the Merck treatment also has the advantage of being extremely convenient and easy to use.

It's still too soon to day when the pills will hit the markets, but it's likely to be quick on the heels of it being approved by the concerned health authorities.

(Written with inputs from Reuters and Associated Press.)

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