Britain on Thursday approved the immediate use of molnupiravir, a potentially game-changing COVID-19 antiviral pill jointly developed by U.S-based Merck (MRK.N) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, as complimentary effort in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. This is the first oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19 to get approved.
Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommended the drug, molnupiravir, be used as soon as possible following a positive COVID-19 test and within five days of the onset of symptoms, citing clinical data.
A global clinical trial showed the pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by nearly half among higher-risk adult coronavirus patients diagnosed with mild to moderate illness.
Merck, who worked on the drug with partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, disclosed that the first dose given to a volunteer in the trial was administered in the United Kingdom.
“Molnupiravir works by introducing genetic errors that garble the coronavirus’s genetic code and prevent it from making copies of itself. Merck’s Molnupiravir has been closely watched since data last month showed it could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalised for those most at risk of developing severe COVID-19 when given early in the illness,” Merck said.
The drug, to be branded Lagevrio in Britain, is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus that causes COVID-19 and is taken twice a day for five days.
Merck said it is expecting to produce 10 million courses of the treatment by the end of this year, with at least 20 million set to be manufactured in 2022.
“We are working at pace across the government and with the NHS to set out plans to deploy molnupiravir to patients through a national study as soon as possible,” health secretary Sajid Javid said.