By Leia Rubinstein, Sci-Tech Editor
As of Monday October 11th, Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have sought US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization for their newly developed treatment for COVID-19. Known as Molnupiravir, this is the first oral antiviral treatment for coronavirus. This drug can be a major step in bringing an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This drug is intended to treat infected adults at risk of progressing to severe COVID-19, such as anyone over 60, or younger adults with obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. Their trial determined that Molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by half. Specifically, 7.3% of patients who received the drug were reported as hospitalized or dead in comparison with the 14.1% in the placebo group.
Experts expect to produce 10 million courses of treatment by the end of 2021.Thus far, 1.7 million treatment courses have been sold to the U.S. government, and they are working on making the drug globally affordable, especially for lower-income countries.
Previously, the only treatment available for COVID-19 has been monoclonal antibodies that were administered intravenously in hospitals or clinics to severely ill patients. Molnupiravir is a milestone which signals the end of COVID-19 because it is convenient, relatively affordable and can reach many more high risk people. The drug is taken at home as four capsules twice a day for five days. Thus, the risk of infecting other healthcare staff or patients is avoided. Also, at $700 for a full treatment course, it costs a third as much as the monoclonal antibody treatment.
Dr. Anothony Fauci says this drug is “very encouraging” but warns that it needs to be closely examined by the FDA. The drug works by stopping coronavirus from replicating by inserting errors into the genetic code. Women who are pregnant are discouraged from taking this drug for fear of possible birth defects.
As we are soon entering the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a treatment for the virus is long due. A drug that can limit the number of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 is extremely encouraging and can finally be the light at the end of a very long tunnel.