The UK has just approved the first pill to treat COVID-19 symptoms. Molnupiravir, produced by the Merck laboratory, is the first treatment for patients diagnosed with the infection. Two-pill-a-day therapy, which was originally developed to treat the flu, was shown in clinical trials to cut the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID in half.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is evaluating a similar pill produced by the Pfizer laboratory, which, in clinical trials, reduced the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID by 89% in adults at risk of developing a severe form of the disease.
In October 2020, the FDA approved the use of remdesivir, a clinical treatment for people hospitalized for COVID. This liquid therapy is given once a day for five to 10 days through an injection. The extent of treatment depends on how well the patient’s body responds. Remdesivir can only be given in a hospital setting, not an outpatient.
The new pills, the one approved in the UK and the one tested by the FDA, work one step earlier, preventing hospitalization and eventually death.
British health authorities explained in statements to the population that molnupiravir works well if administered within the first five days of the onset of COVID symptoms to have maximum effectiveness.
The new generation of drugs against COVID are the first that can be used orally, and not by injection.
How molnupiravir works
The drug approved in the United Kingdom aims to attack an enzyme (a form of protein that generates a chemical reaction) that the coronavirus uses to make copies of itself and spread in the body.
The drug introduces “errors” in the genetic code of the virus, which prevents it from multiplying. By keeping virus levels low in the body, the chance of the disease evolving into a severe form is reduced, while speeding up recovery.
The Merck laboratory said that the chemical mechanism of molnupiravir makes it effective in treating different variants of COVID.
In a clinical trial with 775 patients, in which half were given molnupiravir and the other half a placebo, it showed that of the group that took the new medicine, 7.3% of the patients were hospitalized, compared to 14.1% in the group that took a placebo. Another trial with 202 patients yielded similar results.
These tests revealed a high tolerance to the medication, with no serious side effects.
The next generation
A trial of Pfizer’s new drug also with 775 patients showed that taking 30 pills for five days reduced the risk of hospitalization by 89%. The group that took a placebo had seven deaths, compared with none in the group that took the drug now being analyzed by the FDA.
Merck’s drug approved in Europe is also in line: the drugmaker has already submitted its research documents to the FDA.
The therapeutic journey that science is advancing with COVID is similar to that of influenza: finding drugs that treat symptomatic infection, and prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
However, it remains to be seen whether these promising medications will actually become rule-changing therapies of the pandemic. And finish her off.
Still much of the developing world waits for its turn to receive vaccines. In addition, the new pills need a key piece of prevention in public health: early diagnosis.
COVID must be diagnosed within the first five days of infection for these medications to reach their maximum preventive potential. Many nations lack the necessary health infrastructure to test thousands of people.
Pharmaceuticals promise millions of treatment courses ready in the production chain by the beginning of the year.
In the United States, the authorization process for a new drug can take years. Yet amid a pandemic that has killed millions, paperwork has sped up, and regulators have quicker responses, especially when clinical trials show promise.