Merck’s Anti-Viral Covid Pill

In a major announcement on Friday morning, Europe time, the pharmaceutical giant Merck reported positive news from its ongoing phase 3 trials of an anti-Covid pill. The pill, known as molnupiravir, “significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization or death,” according to the pharmaceutical giant.

Specifically, in their study cohort of Covid-positive patients with so-called “mild to moderate” Covid-19, 14% of those given a placebo ended up hospitalised or dead after 29 days. Of those given molnupirovir, 7% were hospitalised and none died.

There were approximately 1,400 participants in the study. They were recruited within five days of first symptoms, and all had a health condition associated with elevated risk for Covid (diabetes, age over 60, obesity, et cetera).

Because of the eight deaths in the placebo group and the much better outcomes in those given malnupiravir, recruitment for the study has had to cease. Merck says it will now seek emergency use authorisation from the US FDA “as soon as possible.”

Reuters had already reported on Wednesday that the drug is expected to be effective against Covid-19 variants, including delta. The delta variant was not in wide circulation when the current phase 3 trials commenced, but Merck say the new pill’s efficacy is “consistent” across variants.

The pill also had no notable side-effects. In fact, the company said, “Fewer subjects discontinued study therapy due to an adverse event in the molnupiravir group (1.3%) compared to the placebo group (3.4%).”

Covid-19 has obviously been the target of massive prevention measures including vaccines and social distancing. However, the Merck pill may be the first successfully proven direct treatment of the disease.

This is as opposed to steroidal treatments whose intention is to suppress an overactive immune system response to SARS-CoV-2, and supportive therapies like fluids and oxygen support. The new pill also had the advantage of being able to be taken at home rather than in hospital.

“Merck has entered into supply and purchase agreements for molnupiravir with governments worldwide, pending regulatory authorization,” the company said in the announcement. It says pricing will be “tiered” according to governments’ ability to pay.

The Merck Group is a 350 year-old German company. Merck the US pharmaceutical company was its subsidiary until being nationalised by the United States during World War I.

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