Merck’s COVID-19 pill cuts risk of death, hospitalisation by half in s…

Merck & Co Inc’s experimental oral drug for COVID-19, molnupiravir, reduced by around 50 per cent the chance of hospitalisation or death for patients at risk of harsh disease, according to interim clinical trial results announced on Friday.

Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics plan to seek US emergency use authorisation for the pill as soon as possible, and to submit applications to regulatory agencies worldwide. Due to the positive results, the Phase 3 trial is being stopped early at the recommendation of outside monitors.

Merck says its experimental COVID-19 pill cuts hospitalization and deaths by half.Credit:Michael Nagle

“This is going to change the dialogue around how to manage COVID-19,” Robert Davis, Merck’s chief executive officer, said.

If authorised, molnupiravir, which is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus, would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19.

Rivals including Pfizer Inc and Swiss pharmaceutical Roche Holding AG are racing to develop an easy-to-administer antiviral pill for COVID-19 but so far, only antibody cocktails – which have to be given intravenously – are approved for treating non-hospitalised COVID-19 patients.

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A planned interim examination of 775 patients in Merck’s study found that 7.3 per cent of those given molnupiravir were either hospitalised or had died by 29 days after treatment, compared with 14.1 per cent of placebo patients. There were no deaths in the molnupiravir group, but there were eight deaths of placebo patients.

“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 the trial, which enrolled patients around the world, molnupiravir was taken every 12 hours for five days.

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