According to data that experts praised as a possible milestone in how the Covid-19 causing virus is handled, an experimental antiviral medicine produced by Merck & Co has shown the potential to half the risks of dying or being hospitalised for people most at risk of acquiring severe case of Covid-19.
If approved, molnupiravir, which is meant to induce mistakes into the virus’s genomic coding, would be the first oral antiviral treatment for the disease that has caused havoc throughout the world since more than the last 18 months.
Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics want to seek emergency usage permission for the pill as soon as feasible, the two companies said, as well as to file for regulatory applications throughout the world.
“An oral antiviral that can impact hospitalization risk to such a degree would be game-changing,” said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Gilead Sciences Inc’s injected antiviral remdesivir and generic steroid dexamethasone are the current treatment options for Covid-19 and both the medicines are given only after a patient is admitted into a hospital.
“This is going to change the dialogue around how to manage COVID-19,” Merck Chief Executive Robert Davis told Reuters.
Adalja added that the current treatments of the disease are “cumbersome and logistically challenging to administer. A simple oral pill would be the opposite of that”.
The findings of the Phase III trial, which drove Merck shares up more than 9 per cent, were so positive that the research was halted early on the advice of independent monitors.
The announcement of the medicine resulted in shares of Atea Pharmaceuticals Inc, which is developing a similar Covid-19 therapy, were pushed up by more than 21 per cent
The stock price of Moderna Inc, the developer and manufacturer of a Covid-19 vaccine, was down more than 10 per cent, while there was a more than 1 per cent drop in the stocks of Pfizer, another Covid-19 vaccine maker.
Investors believe “people will be less afraid of Covid-19 and less inclined to get vaccines if there is a simple pill that can treat Covid-19,” said Jefferies analyst Michael Yee.
There is also a push for developing an easy-to-administer antiviral tablet for Covid-19 by Pfizer and Roche Holding AG, both based in Switzerland. For non-hospitalized individuals, only intravenous antibody mixtures are approved, for the time being.
Molnupiravir is “a potential additional tool… to protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID-19-19,” said White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients on Friday but added added that vaccination “remains far and away, our best tool against COVID-19.”
Merck’s research, which comprised of an interim review of 775 patients, looked at hospitalizations or deaths among those at risk of severe illness. It discovered that 7.3 per cent of individuals administered molnupiravir twice a day for five days were hospitalised, and none died after a period of 29 days. In comparison, placebo patients were hospitalised at a rate of 14.1 per cent and there were eight fatalities in the placebo group as well.
“Antiviral treatments that can be taken at home to keep people with COVID-19 out of the hospital are critically needed,” Wendy Holman, Ridgeback’s CEO, said in a statement.
(Adapted from Reuters.com)