COVID-19 antiviral pill cut hospitalizations in half, Merck says

Merck's COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50 percent in a phase 3 trial, the drugmaker said Oct. 1. 

Molnupiravir, developed in partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, was tested in nonhospitalized adult patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 who were at risk for developing severe disease. 

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. 

"With these compelling results, we are optimistic that molnupiravir can become an important medicine as part of the global effort to fight the pandemic," Robert Davis, president and CEO of Merck, said in a news release. He added that the company will do "everything we can" to bring the drug to patients as quickly as possible. 

The results, which were based on data from 775 clinical trial participants, showed that no COVID-19 deaths were reported in those who received molnupiravir, compared to eight deaths in the placebo group. 

Molnupiravir also demonstrated consistent efficacy against the gamma, delta and mu COVID-19 variants. 

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

"With the virus continuing to circulate widely, and because therapeutic options currently available are infused and/or require access to a healthcare facility, antiviral treatments that can be taken at home to keep people with COVID-19 out of the hospital are critically needed," Wendy Holman, CEO of Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, said in the news release. 

The U.S. government signed a deal with Merck in June to purchase 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir for $1.2 billion if it's authorized by the FDA. 

Read Merck's full news release here.


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