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When Will We Have A Pill To Treat Covid? Here Are Three Antiviral Drugs Being Tested

TOPLINE Merck announced Friday that it would seek emergency use authorization from U.S. regulators for its experimental pill to treat Covid-19, leaping ahead of its competition as scientists race to develop new tools to thwart the pandemic and ease the burden on overwhelmed hospitals.


Merck said molnupiravir, the antiviral drug it’s developing with Miami-based Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, could halve the risks of hospitalization or death when given to recently diagnosed patients at risk of severe illness, according to interim results from a late-stage clinical trial.

If approved, molnupiravir would be the first antiviral pill for Covid-19 on the market and become a valuable tool in the fight against the virus.

Rivals are not far behind, with Pfizer, Roche, and Atea Pharmaceuticals all expecting results from late-stage clinical trials this year.

Pfizer is testing whether its pill—PF-07321332—can prevent infection in people exposed to the virus or benefit patients who have not been hospitalized with Covid-19.

Roche and Boston-based Atea are also testing whether their antiviral, AT-527, can help treat or prevent Covid-19 and very early results suggested an ability to reduce the amount of virus in the body.


An effective antiviral treatment that could be taken at home could be a pandemic gamechanger, saving lives and relieving pressure on overburdened hospitals. Though there are numerous safe and effective vaccines to prevent Covid-19, there are few options to actually treat someone who has it. The majority of treatments available target the body’s response to the virus, not the virus itself, and are recommended for hospitalized patients only. For non-hospitalized patients, the only recommended treatments are the expensive monoclonal antibody treatments made by the likes of Eli Lilly and Regeneron. Besides cost, the therapies are administered intravenously in a hospital setting anyway and are in such short supply that they are being rationed for those most likely to need them. An oral therapy—Merck’s is a twice-daily pill for five days—could help eliminate many of the barriers to treatment. Pills are relatively cheap, especially compared to biologics like monoclonal antibodies, and easy to produce and distribute at scale. 


Announcements from Pfizer and Merck this week have sparked a flurry of conspiratorial misinformation linking oral antivirals with ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug falsely touted as a Covid-19 cure. The term “pfizermectin” trended on social media following Pfizer’s announcement it was testing the antiviral, with many users baselessly alleging the drug was ivermectin in disguise. There is no evidence ivermectin is effective in treating or preventing Covid-19 and the few studies that do support its use have been found to contain evidence of data manipulation or major methodological flaws. The conspiracies continued Friday after Merck’s announcement, baselessly accusing the firm of burying ivermectin (which it developed and no longer has patent protection on) in order to profit from molnupiravir. 


Pfizer, Roche, and Atea all anticipate trial results later this year. If promising, they may use these to apply for emergency use authorization in the U.S. 


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