7 things to know about Merck's COVID-19 antiviral pill

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The healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are keeping a close eye on molnupiravir, a COVID-19 antiviral pill Merck is developing with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, as it could improve COVID-19 patients' outcomes if it receives FDA emergency use authorization. Here are seven things to know about the drug:

  1. The pill was developed at Emory University in Atlanta. It was funded by $35 million in taxpayer grants, according to Biospace. From 2013-20, Emory researchers conducted early-stage testing on molnupiravir with funds from the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Department.

  2. When the pandemic began, the university licensed molnupiravir to Ridgeback Biotherapeutics so the drug could be tested in human clinical trials.

  3. In May 2020, Merck bought the exclusive rights to sell and manufacture the pill worldwide.

  4. In June, the U.S. agreed to buy about 1.7 million treatment courses of molnupiravir for $1.2 billion if the product is approved by the FDA. The government paid $712 per treatment course, and each course requires patients to take 40 pills over five days.

  5. Merck released data Oct. 1 showing molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50 percent in a phase 3 trial. It was tested in nonhospitalized adult patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 who were at risk for developing severe disease.

  6. Merck said it plans to seek emergency use authorization from the FDA for the drug "as soon as possible." If authorized, it would be the first oral antiviral drug designed to treat COVID-19.

  7. Merck said it expects to produce 10 million courses of treatment of molnupiravir by the end of this year. 
 

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