Results from a phase 3 study have shown that Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral pill reduces the risk of hospitalizations and deaths by half.
Science is truly remarkable. Within a span of two years, scientists have managed to make considerable advances in the fight against COVID-19. In such a short period, researchers have come up with effective vaccines, rapid testing devices, antibody treatments, and several other measures. Now, a COVID antiviral pill can soon become the first oral medicine approved for use against the novel coronavirus.
On October 1st, Merck announced the Phase 3 trial results of its oral antiviral medicine, molnupiravir. The ribonucleoside analogue works by inhibiting the replication of SARS-CoV-2. The phase 3 study evaluated the pill’s efficacy among 775 mild to moderate COVID patients. Moreover, all patients had at least one risk factor putting them at risk of severe disease.
As part of the study, approximately 385 participants received a 5-day course of molnupiravir and the remaining received a placebo. The interim analysis revealed an approximately 50% reduction in hospitalizations among the pill group. Moreover, the placebo group had 8 deaths during the period, while the pill group reported none. Thus, showing a reduction in deaths among those receiving molnupiravir.
The researchers did not any difference in adverse events among the two groups.
Despite the positive results, the pill is not a replacement for vaccines. Instead, the treatment is to be an alternative to currently approved COVID-19 treatment options such as monoclonal antibodies and remdesivir. Moreover, its low cost and mode of administration make it a promising candidate among high-risk individuals.
Hardly a Game-Changer, Say Experts
Based on the interim analysis result, Merck plans to apply for an emergency use authorization within the next two weeks. However, the small sample size of the trial has experts conflicted about the pill’s effectiveness. Moreover, the results are not yet peer-reviewed; therefore, experts urge caution.
Merck’s antiviral pill is not the only contender against COVID-19. Earlier this year, Pfizer also announced it was working on an injectable and oral form of an antiviral. As more and more antiviral pills continue to be tested, scientists debate whether they really are a game-changer. Although reduction of hospitalizations and deaths is a great outcome, the real problem remains unvaccinated individuals. These anti-vaxxers continue to pose a challenge to the healthcare system, being most at risk of severe disease. However, the question arises whether their vaccine hesitancy will also translate to an antiviral pill. If yes, then can an antiviral pill really be a gamechanger in the fight against COVID-19?