An experimental pill for people sick with COVID-19 could reduce their chances of hospitalization and death by 50 percent, Merck & Co announced on Friday (Oct. 1). In a study, the German pharmaceutical company said patients who took their antiviral pill molnupiravir within five days of displaying Coronavirus symptoms had about half the rate of hospitalization and death as opposed to those who received a placebo pill.
According to the Associated Press, the study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms who were considered high-risk for the virus. During the 29-day study, 7.3 percent of patients who took molnupiravir were hospitalized with COVID-19. In contrast, 14.1 percent of patients who received a placebo pill were hospitalized and eight people died, Merck said. There were zero deaths reported in the group that took the drug.
The pill still needs to be authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which AP writes could happen within weeks. Merck executives said they plan to submit their findings to the FDA for consideration in the coming days.
“This would allow us to treat many more people much more quickly and, we trust, much less expensively,” infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner told the outlet. Dr. Anthony Fauci also called Merck’s study results “very good news.”
If approved, molnupiravir would be the first pill used to treat COVID-19. One antiviral drug, remdesivir, has already been authorized for use within the U.S., but the drug can only be administered by IV or injection. In contrast, a pill that can be taken at home would be a major breakthrough for people who don’t have easy access to hospitals and expensive infusion therapies.
According to AP, the U.S. government has already committed to buying enough molnupiravir pills to treat 1.7 million people, assuming the drug passes FDA inspection. Merck said Friday it can produce enough pills for 10 million patients before the end of this year.