Merck says it will seek emergency use authorization for oral COVID-19 drug following promising trial

The pill developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics could become the first oral antiviral treatment for the virus
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Pharmaceutical giant Merck
Pharmaceutical giant Merck
(Marko Georgiev / Getty Images)

Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics plan to seek an emergency use authorization for their oral antiviral coronavirus drug, following "compelling results" delivered via clinical trial. 

Trial results showed that the drug, molnupiravir, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50% for patients with mild or moderate cases of the illness. The pill works by preventing the replication of COVID-19 once inside the body.

An analysis of the phase 3 drug trial found that 7.3% of patients treated with the drug were hospitalized within 29 days of diagnoses. For patients who received a placebo, that figure rose to 14.1%. No deaths were reported in patients who were given molnupiravir, while 8 deaths were recorded among the placebo group. None of the trial patients were vaccinated against COVID, and each participant had at least one underlying factor that put them at greater risk for a severe case. 

The trial was conducted around the globe at more than 170 sites, in countries including the U.S., Brazil, Japan, Italy, Taiwan, and Guatemala. 

"With these compelling results, we are optimistic that molnupiravir can become an important medicine as part of the global efforts to fight the pandemic," said CEO and president of Merck Robert M. Davis. 

Should the pill be authorized by regulatory bodies, it will become the first orally ingested antiviral medication used to treat COVID. Merck expects to produce 10 million courses of treatment by the end of 2021, with more doses on the way in 2022.