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Merck: Experimental Pill Treats COVID-19 at Earliest Stages

October 01, 2021

Merck said Friday that its experimental COVID-19 pill is effective against coronavirus, reducing hospitalizations and deaths by 50 percent in people recently infected with the virus. If approved by the Food and Drug Administration under an emergency use authorization, the drug would be the first pill to effectively treat COVID-19 -- a potentially major breakthrough in the fight against the pandemic. All COVID-19 therapies in the United States. currently require an IV or injection. Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare System Director of Infectious Disease and Chief Epidemiologist, said Pfizer also has a pill in the approval process. He added that while the drugs show promise in treating people who already have COVID-19, they would do nothing to prevent it. “I wouldn’t want to call it a breakthrough because it could distract from the main way to treat COVID, which is vaccines,” Dr. Wu said. “Even though it will be very important for this drug to be developed, it should still not be the mainstay, and it’s development may even cause more vaccine hesitancy.” Merck said its next step would be to seek authorization from U.S. and worldwide health organizations. The drug maker and its partner, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, said early results showed patients who received the drug, called molnupiravir, within five days of COVID-19 symptoms had about half the rate of hospitalization and death as patients who received a dummy pill. The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered higher risk for severe disease due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. Among patients taking molnupiravir, 7.3 percent were either hospitalized or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1 percent of those getting the dummy pill. There were no deaths in the drug group after that time period compared with eight deaths in the placebo group, according to Merck. The results released by the company have not been peer reviewed by outside experts, the usual procedure for vetting new medical research. Merck said it plans to present them at a future medical meeting.

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