Covid pill could 'slash risk of dying from virus in half'
A COVID pill could slash the risk of going to hospital or dying by half, “game-changing” trial results have found.
US drug firms Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics revealed their antiviral drug molnupiravir cut rates of severe Covid by 50 per cent in a study.
It could become the first pill approved for people at high risk from Covid to take at home after they test positive.
The UK’s antivirals taskforce – which hopes to get two drugs in use by the end of the year – is in talks with the manufacturers about a deal.
Dr Daria Hazuda, vice-president of research at Merck, said: “This is a very exciting day for patients in the global fight against Covid.
“It is the first antiviral that has shown efficacy in the outpatient setting for Covid. I think that’s game-changing.”
Study results were taken from tests of the drug on 775 people who had recently tested positive for the virus but were not seriously ill.
They showed 7.3 per cent of people given molnupiravir ended up going into hospital, compared to 14.1 per cent of people who were not given the drug.
The companies were so happy with the results they ended the trial ahead of schedule and will now apply for a licence from drugs regulators in the US.
A first of its kind, the drug works by forcing errors into the coronavirus’s genetics when it reproduces.
By doing this it cripples the virus and stops it being able to multiply as quickly, stopping it taking hold in the body and allowing the immune system to fend off Covid.
Scientists in the UK welcomed the news but said the drug would have to be targeted at the most vulnerable people.
Professor Peter Horby, from the University of Oxford, said: “Quite a lot of people need to be treated to prevent one hospitalisation or death.”
And Dr Peter English, former chair of the British Medical Association, added: “In my opinion, these drugs might have a role if you can first identify people at risk of more serious disease.”
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