United Kingdom authorizes Merck COVID-19 antiviral pill

The U.K. became the first country to authorize the drug maker's potentially breakthrough treatment
Pharmaceutical giant Merck

Britain has granted conditional authorization to the Merck pill that has been shown to successfully treat COVID-19. It becomes the first country to give the thumbs-up to the treatment, although it is unclear how soon the pill will be available. 

The pill, which is called molnupiravir, was licensed for recipients18 and older who have tested positive for COVID and have at least one health factor that puts them at risk for severe disease. Patients with mild-to-moderate cases would take four pills, twice a day for five days. 

The treatment is pending review with U.S. regulators, as well as in the European Union. The United States' Food and Drug Administration says it will convene a panel in late November to assess the pill. 

Merck has said it will be able to produce 10 million courses of treatment through the end of the year, most of which have already been purchased by governments around the world. Last month, the U.K. announced it had secured 480,000 courses of molnupiravir, which it will distribute throughout the winter season. 

Last week, Merck agreed to allow other drugmakers to make its COVID pill. The company will not receive royalties for as long as the World Health Organization deems the virus to be a global emergency. Merck has also agreed to assist any companies that need technological help in making their drug, a promise that no coronavirus vaccine has mimicked.