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COVID-19 pill cuts risk of hospitalization, death by half, Merck says – CNET

molnupiravir

Molnupiravir, an antirviral, reduces the risk of hospitalization and death in COVID-19 patients by half, according to Merck.

Merck

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Merck’s experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19, known as molnupiravir, reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by roughly half, according to an interim analysis of its clinical trial released Friday. The drug maker plans to seek emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration and other regulators “as soon as possible,” the company said. 

If authorized, molnupiravir would be the first antiviral pill for treating COVID-19. The only other antiviral drug approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19 is remdesivir, which must be administered by IV or injection. 

The other COVID-19 treatment authorized by the FDA is monoclonal antibody therapy, which is free and available to Americans at high risk of severe COVID-19. The antibody treatment is usually given intravenously and can be administered outside a hospital, but many health care advocates think it’s been underutilized or poorly distributed.

If Merck’s pill becomes available, it could be the breakthrough in treatment that many have been hoping for. The pandemic has killed more than 4.7 million people worldwide, including nearly 700,000 in the US.

Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said early results for molnupiravir showed that high-risk adults who took the pill within five days of developing COVID-19 symptoms were about 50% less likely to be hospitalized or die, compared with patients who received a placebo (7.3% vs. 14.1%). The clinical trial included 775 adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who also had at least one risk factor, such as obesity or heart disease. The drug maker also reported that adverse reactions in people who took the pill were similar to people who took a placebo pill.

Read more: Ivermectin and COVID-19: Two deaths linked to use of the drug in New Mexico

In June, Merck signed an agreement with the US that the government would buy 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir if the drug receives emergency use authorization by the FDA.

Last month, data from Johns Hopkins University showed that around 1 in 500 Americans have died from the coronavirus. While the available COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, millions of American have not yet gotten a shot. According to a September report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unvaccinated people are now over 10 times more likely to get hospitalized with COVID-19 and over 10 times more likely to die from the disease than fully vaccinated people.

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