COVID: antiviral pill developed by Merck would cut hospitalizations in half

The wait was long, but we are almost there. To date, several pharmaceutical companies are already testing antiviral treatments to effectively combat COVID-19. The goal in the first instance is to significantly reduce hospitalizations and deaths. This is particularly the case with Merck, which could well become the distributor of the first approved oral treatment against COVID-19 in a few months, after demonstrating in a preliminary study that it reduced hospitalizations and almost 100% of deaths by half. .

If approved, the antiviral drug would be the first single-dose pill that has been shown to be effective against COVID-19 and would mark a breakthrough in the fight against the pandemic. Other drugs, such as dexamethasone, already save the lives of the sickest hospital patients, but must be given as injections or infusions.

Manufactured by Merck (or MSD outside the United States) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the molecule, known as molnupiravir and originally designed to treat the flu, is said to be the first molecule at risk patients take at home. Merck said it will apply for emergency use authorization in the United States within the next two weeks and will seek the green light for use in several other countries.

Almost 100% reduction in deaths

Experts predict that if more data confirms the initial results of clinical trials, molnupiravir could be approved for the treatment of high-risk patients within weeks of submitting an application. “It exceeded my expectations for this clinical trial,” said Dean Li, Merck vice president of research. “When you see a 50% reduction in hospitalizations or deaths, that’s a substantial clinical impact.”

The trial followed 775 adults with mild to moderate Covid, who are considered to be at increased risk for severe disease due to underlying health problems such as obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. Half of them received a five-day treatment with molnupiravir, which comes in the form of small brown capsules that are taken twice a day.

Molnupiravir chemical structure.

53 patients (14%) in the placebo group were hospitalized, compared with only 28 (7%) of those who received the drug. There were no deaths in the group treated with the drug after this period, compared to 8 in the placebo group, according to the Merck laboratory. That’s a 100% death reduction.

Data from the study was made public in a press release on Friday and has not yet been peer-reviewed. However, an independent group of medical experts who supervised the trial recommended that it be stopped prematurely because the interim results were very encouraging.

Relief from remdesivir disappointment

Professor Peter Openshaw of Imperial College London called the result “remarkable if confirmed”, adding that disappointing trials of other antiviral drugs such as remdesivir had lowered expectations of a breakthrough. “We really don’t expect to see such impressive data for an antiviral,” he said.

“It is really encouraging to see positive clinical data in a trial. If the results are confirmed, it would be a very positive result, ”said Professor Peter Horby of the University of Oxford. Horby said, however, to be careful because with a relatively small number of participants, the effectiveness figure can vary depending on the results of a handful of patients.

Only limited information about side effects was released in the press release, but the company said the rates were similar between the placebo group and the treated group.

A $ 1.2 billion pre-order

The US government pre-purchased 1.7 million doses of the drug at a cost of $ 1.2 billion, and the company said Friday it would use a “tiered pricing approach” to reflect the country’s ability to pay. the medicine.

Janet Scott of the University of Glasgow, who is leading the trial of another antiviral drug, called the results “very interesting.” “Ideally, in the future, we hope to have a well-tolerated drug that people can buy without a prescription and take at the first suspicion of infection, even before they have the test result, so that we can target Covid -19 in an initial stage, ”he said.

In France, COVID cases are down, with 4,935 new cases reported yesterday. The incidence rate is changing mixed: in Aude, for example, while it was 68.4 per 100,000 population during the sliding week of September 21-27, it rose to 71.9 during the week. In the Eastern Pyrenees there is a decrease; it goes from 53.7 to 50.9 in the same periods. National figures, however, show a decrease in the number of intensive care patients: 1,414 yesterday, as the country recorded 46 new deaths for 4,935 new cases.

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