Drugmaker Merck & Co recently claimed that its pill against the Coronavirus caused disease Covid-19 was able to cut the risk of hospitalisation and death by half.
The anti-viral pill to treat Coronavirus caused disease was so successful in reducing the most severe outcomes of the illness that clinical trials of the medication were stopped early so that more people could benefit, according to the New Jersey-based company.
In a press release, Merck said that a five-day course of the medicine, called ‘molnupiravir’, was found to cut Covid-19 related hospitalisations and mortality by half.
Studies from Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics—that included unvaccinated people—revealed that patients who received molnupiravir within five days of Covid-19 symptoms had a 50 per cent lower rate of hospitalisation and mortality than those who received a placebo pill.
The research followed 775 patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19 who were at a higher risk of developing severe disease due to health issues like obesity, diabetes, or heart disease.
At the end of 30 days, only 7.3 per cent of individuals receiving molnupiravir were hospitalised or died, compared to 14.1 per cent of those taking the placebo. According to Merck, there were no deaths in the medication group after that time period, compared to eight deaths in the placebo group.
In the Merck trial, both groups experienced side effects, but the group that received a dummy tablet experienced them significantly more frequently. The issues were not specified by the company.
The results were not peer-reviewed, but Merck plans to exhibit the findings at a future medical gathering.
Meanwhile, because the intermediate results were so promising, an independent panel of medical professionals monitoring the clinical trial advised that it be stopped early.
Company executives said they are in talks with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and want to submit an application for emergency use authorisation as soon as feasible. They also want to apply for marketing licences with additional regulatory organisations around the world.
If approved, it would be the first oral medicine to treat Covid-19, marking a significant step forward in the fight against the ongoing pandemic.
Dr Dean Li, vice president of Merck research said: “It exceeded what I thought the drug might be able to do in this clinical trial. When you see a 50 per cent reduction in hospitalisation or death, that is a substantial clinical impact.”
However, as reported by The New York Times, Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the top American expert and an adviser on coronavirus pandemic to the United States President Joe Biden, called the Merck pill’s development “extremely essential” but cautioned Americans not to put off being vaccinated because they believe they can take the pill. While the new treatment may reduce a person's risk, he believes that avoiding infection is the best way to protect oneself.
If the medicine is approved by the FDA, the American government has committed to purchasing 1.7 million doses. Merck has stated that it can create 10 million doses by the end of the year and that it has contracts with governments all around the world. But the price of the drug has not yet been revealed.
Several other pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and Roche, are researching similar medications, with findings expected in the following weeks and months.
As reported, on 4 October, shares of India's Divi's Laboratories Ltd, which manufactures the key ingredient in Merck's experimental anti-viral pill, jumped 10 per cent after the pharmaceutical giant disclosed the findings. Divi's announced in May this year that it is an authorised active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturer for molnupiravir and is permitted to deliver the API to Merck's partners in India.
Similarly, shares of Cipla, Sun Pharma, Dr Reddy's Laboratories and Torrent Pharmaceuticals, which are jointly undertaking a clinical trial with molnupiravir in India, gained between 1.1 per cent and 2.3 per cent on 4 October.
Earlier, when interim data from a late-stage trial revealed molnupiravir helped minimise hospitalisations in moderate cases of Covid-19, Hyderabad-based Hetero Labs announced in July that it was also seeking a domestic emergency use authorisation for the medication.
After the release of the recent report by the American company, the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison said on 5 October that the country will buy 300,000 courses of Merck's experimental anti-viral pill. Even the Thailand government is reportedly in talks with the drugmaker to buy 200,000 courses of the pill.
Additionally, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia have also expressed interest in purchasing the prospective medication, while the Philippines, which is conducting a trial on the drug, has expressed hope that the results of its domestic study will allow access to the medicine.
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