02 Oct COVID-19: UK shows interest in antiviral pill molnupiravir after trial shows it could halve hospitalisations and deaths | UK News
The UK has shown interest in an antiviral pill for COVID-19 after “very encouraging” clinical trial results found it cut hospitalisations and deaths by half.
The chair of Britain’s antivirals taskforce hinted the country could buy molnupiravir, when he attended an online briefing about Merck’s experimental drug.
“We are involved in looking closely at all of the options available, but we’re really not in a position to give out the details around specific conversations at this moment in time,” said Eddie Gray.
When pressed for more information, he said the emergence of this type of trial data “tends to accelerate all processes of this type” but said he could not give a timeline for the drug’s potential purchase.
He added: “I have chosen to turn up today to be here. Read into that what you wish.”
US pharmaceutical giant Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said early results showed patients who received the drug within five days of displaying COVID symptoms had half the rate of hospitalisation and death as those who were given a placebo.
The 775 participants were adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who have health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease and are considered at a higher risk of severe disease.
Some 7.3% of those who took molnupiravir were hospitalised, compared with 14.1% who were given the dummy pill.
None of those who took the treatment died within 29 days, compared with eight in the placebo group.
The firms intend to ask US health officials for approval soon – if granted, molnupiravir would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19.
The trial results were released by the company and have not yet been peer reviewed – but the phase three trial is being stopped early after an independent group of medical advisers recommended the move due to the positive findings.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government’s foremost authority on infectious diseases, described the results as “very good news”.
Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, said molnupiravir “has looked promising in the lab, but the test is whether it shows benefit in patients”.
“Many drugs fail at this point so these interim results are very encouraging,” he said, adding: “A safe, affordable, and effective oral antiviral would be a huge advance in the fight against COVID.”
Ruth McKernan, chair of the UK Bioindustry Association, said oral drugs directed specifically at the virus that can be used at home would be a “really valuable addition to our toolkit”.
“They have good efficacy and should work across many variants,” she said.
“We need a full set of treatments from preventative vaccines, oral treatments for those infected and additional drugs for hospital use.”