The first pill to treat COVID has been approved in the UK today, in what is being termed a “historic” moment.
Designed to treat symptomatic COVID, the pill – called molnupiravir – will be given twice a day to high-risk patients that have recently been diagnosed with the virus.
Originally developed to treat flu, the pill has performed well in trials – cutting the risk of death or hospitalisation in half.
It can be taken at home, and is designed specifically to help those who are immunosuppressed and highly vulnerable to the illness – hopefully mitigating syptoms before illness progresses to hospitalisation stages.
It’s hoped by its developers Merck that the tablet will continue to be equally effective against future evolutions of Covid.
The UK government has not revealed how much its contract with Merck is worth, but it is being reported elsewhere that the US has spent roughly $1.2 billion for 1.7 million courses.
The UK government, meanwhile, has ordered 480,000 courses for the end of the year.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement: “Today is a historic day for our country, as the UK is now the first country in the world to approve an antiviral that can be taken at home for Covid.”
The tablet has been developed by the US drug companies Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
It targets an enzyme used by the virus to make copies of itself, and prevents it from multiplying by introducing errors into the genetic code.
Merck chief executive June Raine described the new pill as “another therapeutic to add to our armoury against Covid-19”.
“It is the world’s first approved antiviral for this disease that can be taken by mouth rather than administered intravenously,” she said.
“This is important, because it means it can be administered outside of a hospital setting, before Covid-19 has progressed to a severe stage.”
Feature Image – Merck