- Jim Reed
- BBC health editor
10 minutes ago
Interim clinical trial results indicate that an experimental drug for the treatment of COVID-19 reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by nearly half.
A tablet (a pill) of the drug “molnopiravir” was given twice daily to patients who had recently been diagnosed with the disease.
US drugmaker Merck said its results are so positive that outside monitors have asked to stop the trial early.
She said she would apply for an emergency use license for the drug in the United States in the next two weeks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to US President Joe Biden, said the results were “very good news”, but urged caution until the US Food and Drug Administration reviewed the data.
Oral treatment first
If authorized by the authorities responsible for licensing the drugs, Molnopiravir will be the first oral antiviral drug.
The pill, which was originally developed to treat influenza, is designed to insert errors in the virus’s genetic code, preventing it from spreading in the body.
- An analysis of 775 patients in the study found that:
- 7.3% of patients treated with molnopiravir were hospitalized
- Compared to 14.1% of patients who took a placebo
There were no deaths in the molnopiravir group, but eight patients given a placebo in the trial later died of coronavirus.
The data was published in a press release and has not yet been scrutinized by external scientific review panels.
Unlike most coronavirus vaccines, which target the protein that forms the spines (coronary protrusions) on the outside of the virus, the treatment works by targeting an enzyme that the virus uses to clone itself and make other copies of itself.
Merck, known as MSD in the UK, said this would make the drug equally effective against new mutants of the virus as it develops in the future.
Daria Hazoda, Merck’s vice president for infectious disease diagnostics, told the BBC: “Giving antiviral therapy to people who have not been vaccinated or who are less responsive to the immunity produced by vaccines is a very important tool in helping to end this epidemic.”
The trial results suggest that molnopiravir must be taken early after symptoms appear in order to have an effect. A previous study of its use, conducted on patients who had already been hospitalized with severe cases of the Corona virus, was stopped, after disappointing results.
Merck is the first company to introduce trials of pills to treat Covid, but other companies are working on similar treatments. And its American competitor, Pfizer, recently started the final stages of its experiments on two different antiviral tablets, while the Swiss company Roche is working on a similar drug.
Merck said it expects to produce 10 million sachets of a full course of molopiravir by the end of 2021. The US government has already approved a purchase of $1.2 billion of the drug if it receives approval from the regulator, the Food and Drug Administration.
The company said it was in ongoing discussions with other countries, including the UK, and had also agreed licensing agreements with a number of generic manufacturers to supply the treatment to low- and middle-income countries.
Professor Penny Ward, from King’s College London, who was not involved in the trial, said: “It is highly hoped that the authorities responsible for antiviral treatments will pre-order courses of this drug, as is the case with pre-ordered vaccines.”
وأضافت “[وبهذا] Britain can, finally, be able to manage this condition properly by treating cases of illness that may occur in some people who have received the vaccine, thus relieving the pressure on the National Health Service during the coming winter.”
Professor Peter Horby, an infectious disease expert at Oxford University, said: “Safe, effective and affordable oral antivirals will be a major advance in the fight against corona.”
“Molnopiravir looked promising in the lab, but the real test is whether it will benefit patients directly. Many drugs fail at this point, so these interim results are very encouraging.”