In a press release on Oct. 1, American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co announced a pill that may be able to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death of Covid-19 patients by about 50 per cent.
Called molnupiravir, the investigational oral antiviral medicine is still undergoing experimentation.
However, Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics want to seek Emergency Use Authorisation for the pill as soon as possible, with plans to submit marketing applications to other regulatory bodies worldwide.
If authorised, molnupiravir could be the first oral antiviral medicine for Covid-19.
Reduce hospitalisation and death by 50 per cent
Molnupiravir is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus that causes Covid-19, according to Reuters.
A planned interim analysis of 775 patients in Phase 3 of Merck's study looked at hospitalisations and deaths among Covid-19 patients.
The study required all patients to have mild to moderate Covid-19, as well as a risk factor like obesity or old age that is associated with poor disease outcomes.
Merck said that molnupiravir is not capable of inducing genetic changes in human cells.
Despite this, men participating in the trials had to abstain from heterosexual intercourse or agree to use contraception.
Women of child-bearing age also had to use birth control.
After 29 days of treatment, it was found that 7.3 per cent of those given molnupiravir were hospitalised and none had died.
In comparison, the hospitalisation rate for placebo patients of 14.1 per cent, and eight died.
The pill was taken twice a day for five days.
Merck claimed that molnupiravir has been effective across all Covid-19 viral variants, including the highly transmissible Delta variant.
It added that the incidence of any adverse events, including those that are drug-related, were similar for both the molnupiravir and placebo groups.
10 million doses being prepared by end of 2021
Merck expects to produce 10 million courses of treatment by the end of 2021, with more doses expected to be produced in 2022.
“With the virus continuing to circulate widely, [...] antiviral treatments that can be taken at home to keep people with Covid-19 out of the hospital are critically needed,” said Ridgeback Biotherapeutics CEO Wendy Holman.
However, CNA reported that experts are requesting to see the complete underlying data, with some stressing for it to be taken as a complement, rather than a replacement, for vaccines.
Drug resistance is also a possibility if the pill is used "indiscriminately," Peter Hotez, dean of Texas Children's Hospital noted.
Top image via Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp