The World's First Antiviral COVID-19 Pill Was Just Approved In the UK

This could truly be a game-changer.
Chris Young

The United Kingdom has approved the world's first COVID-19 antiviral pill, developed by US-based companies Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, a report from Reuters reveals. Unlike the vaccines produced for COVID-19, which are preventative measures, the new antiviral pill is effective after the early onset of symptoms.

The drug, molnupiravir, is taken twice a day and it is the world's first oral treatment to be approved for COVID-19. Data from clinical trials shows that it reduces the chances of dying and hospitalization by 50 percent for those with a high risk of developing a severe form of the disease.

A 'historic day' that could alter the course of the pandemic

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the antiviral treatment, which can be taken at home and will be branded as Lagevrio in the UK. The agency recommends the pill should be administered as soon as possible following a positive test for COVID-19, and that it is effective up to five days after the onset of symptoms.

According to the BBC, UK health secretary Sajid Javid said the treatment is a "game-changer," especially for high-risk people, the immunosuppressed, and people who are advised not to take the vaccine for medical reasons.

"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," Javid said in a statement posted on Twitter. The UK health secretary also urged people to continue getting vaccinated, stating that it "is still the most important thing we can do right now to protect ourselves and our loved ones."

Several pharmaceutical firms are developing COVID-19 antiviral pills

The pill, which was originally developed for the flu, was tested in a clinical trial, detailed in a press statement from Merck. The trial involved 775 patients who had recently tested positive for COVID-19. 7.3 percent of the patients who were given molnupiravir were hospitalized. By comparison, 14.1 percent of patients who were given a placebo pill ended up in hospital. None of the patients who took the antiviral tablet died, while eight patients who took the placebo pill, alongside normal treatment, sadly passed away.

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Advisers in the United States are set to meet this month to vote on whether to grant approval to molnupiravir. Other companies are also developing antiviral treatments for COVID-19. Pfizer has started clinical trials on two different tablet treatments and Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche is also working on an antiviral medication. 

The British government announced that it will soon reveal more details on how it will get the tablets into the hands of the public. The country's government agreed to a deal with Merck in August for 480,000 courses of molnupiravir. Merck announced that it will manufacture 10 million courses of the treatment before the end of the year, and at least 20 million more will be produced in 2022.

This was a breaking news story and was updated as new information emerged.

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