WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 30 — Are we on the verge of a return to life the way it was before COVID? Three major drug companies say we might get pretty close to normalcy with anti-viral pills they are testing.
Pfizer, Merck, Roche, and its partner, Atea Pharmaceuticals, each report that their clinical trials show promise and that their anti-viral pills could be authorized for use within a matter of months, perhaps by the end of the year or soon thereafter. Enanta Pharmaceuticals, Pardes Biosciences, Japan’s Shionogi & Co Ltd, and Novartis AG are also in the race to develop an oral anti-viral medication.
The Financial Times [FT] has a comprehensive report on anti-virus research:
- “Merck’s tablet, called molnupiravir, would be taken within five days of Covid-19 symptoms emerging, twice a day for five days. It is in phase-3 trials, and the company expects to have data by the end of this year. Merck has also started household trials of molnupiravir in people who do not have coronavirus but are living with someone who does.”
- “Pfizer is also carrying out late-stage trials of its anti-viral tablet. The company is studying two anti-virals — a tablet that can be taken at home and an intravenous infusion for patients suffering from more serious diseases. The medicines work by blocking the activity of the Covid protease, an enzyme that the virus needs in order to replicate in the body.”
- “In Europe, Swiss pharma company Roche is working with Atea Pharmaceuticals on an oral anti-viral it believes has dual potential: to treat people with Covid-19 and prevent illness in people who have been exposed to the virus. Initial results in hospitalized patients with moderate Covid-19 and at high risk of poor outcomes “indicated a rapid and sustained anti-viral activity against Sars-Cov-2, with no new or unexpected safety results”, the company said.”
The experts stress that tablets are no substitute for vaccinations. However, Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah, says, “There will be people who will have lost immunity or refuse to get vaccinated or who are at very high risk for whom having an effective treatment could be lifesaving.”
So far, the trials of Merck’s anti-viral version of the pill show enough promise that Robert Davis, the company’s CEO, says phase three of its clinical trials should be completed shortly and that Merck could be applying for Emergency Use Authorization [EUA] from the Food and Drug Administration before the end of December. Pfizer and Roche-Atea, too, maybe seeking an EUA soon, as well. Thus, it is possible, if not likely, that there will soon be a pill to treat those who have been diagnosed with COVID, preventing symptoms from developing after exposure.
Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health System Tracker reports that “despite the availability of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, vaccination rates have lagged, particularly in some states and among younger people. As of early September 2021, 25% of adults over the age of 18 in the U.S. remain unvaccinated for COVID-19. As a result of lagging vaccinations and the more infectious delta variant, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are on the rise again.”
The CDC tells us that the unvaccinated are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid-19 than those who are fully vaccinated. This has overwhelmed many hospitals.
Thus, an anti-viral COVID pill can be a game-changer, allowing those who are infected with the virus to be treated outside of hospitals by keeping the disease from progressing and, thus, preventing hospital trips. As he put it: “We’re looking for something I could give everyone in an urgent care setting who comes in with exposure or a positive test. An easy, oral, safe drug.”
Dr. Nathaniel Erdmann, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, says, “We’re looking for something I could give everyone in an urgent care setting who comes in with exposure or a positive test. An easy, oral, safe drug.”