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Everything to Know About the First Oral Drug Against COVID-19

The First Oral Drug Against Covid

Merck & Co.’s antiviral pill Molnupiravir has been hailed as the first oral antiviral drug and a potential game changer in the fight against Covid-19. In a late-stage study of adults with mild-to-moderate cases, the experimental medication was shown to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by about half.

The promise of an oral medication that patients can easily obtain and administer at home has prompted some governments to place orders for supplies even before regulators decide on its use.

Meanwhile, here are some of the most important facts about this promising oral coronavirus antiviral drug.

1. What is the First Oral Drug Against Coronavirus?

Molnupiravir is the chemical name for a medication that was initially developed to treat influenza and is administered orally in the form of a capsule. It inhibits SARS-CoV-2 replication, the coronavirus that causes Covid, through a process known as “lethal mutagenesis.” In simple terms, it causes errors in the machinery that replicates the virus’s genetic material, resulting in defective copies. The drug was discovered at Emory University in Atlanta and is being developed by Merck & Co. in Kenilworth, New Jersey, and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP in Miami.

2. Is Molnupiravir Effective?

Merck said in an Oct. 1 statement that an interim analysis of data from a randomized trial found that it reduced the risk of hospitalization by about 50%. 28 (7.3%) of 385 patients who received the drug were hospitalized, compared to 53 (14.1%) of 377 patients who received a placebo. No deaths were reported in patients receiving Molnupiravir through day 29, but eight patients in the placebo arm died.

The study was small, and additional research is necessary. However, the results were so encouraging that Merck and Ridgeback decided to halt the trial and begin the process of obtaining regulatory clearance in consultation with independent trial monitors and the US Food and Drug Administration. The company stated at a September conference that preliminary research indicated that Molnupiravir can neutralize the most prevalent SARS-CoV-2 variants, including delta and gamma.

3. What Distinguishes it From Other Medications?

The First Oral Drug from Merck Against COVID Molnupiravir
The First Oral Drug from Merck Against COVID Molnupiravir

Remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed by Gilead Sciences Inc., as well as monoclonal antibodies, are administered intravenously. This is typically performed in a hospital or clinic, where infected individuals run the risk of transmitting the virus to medical personnel and other patients. The primary advantage of Molnupiravir is that it is taken as a pill or an oral drug, which enables patients to be treated at home.

Additionally, it is likely to be less expensive: According to the New York Times, a five-day course of Molnupiravir will cost approximately $700 per patient – about a third of the cost of monoclonal antibody treatment. Antivirals that are safe, well-tolerated, affordable, and simple to administer are ideal treatments because they work directly against the virus, limiting its damage to the body and length of illness.

Steroids and blood thinners, which have been shown to improve survival in hospitalized patients, do not directly combat the virus; rather, they prevent the virus from worsening.

4. When is it Scheduled to Become Available in the Philippines?

The 200mg pill is expected to arrive next month, according to Faberco Life Sciences Inc., the country’s official distributor of Molnupiravir. Faberco has formed a distribution partnership with RiteMed Philippines, Inc. to distribute the oral medication to hospitals, medical institutions, and treatment facilities.

5. What Method of Administration was Used?

Adults with mild-to-moderate Covid were given Molnupiravir orally every 12 hours for five days. The most efficacious regimen is still being studied. Molnupiravir had little effect on patients already hospitalized with severe disease, according to a study published earlier this year. One study is examining whether it can be used to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in households with at least one member who has Covid.

6. Are there any Unintended Consequences?

Interim analysis revealed no evidence of an increased risk of adverse events. Only 1.3 percent of Molnupiravir-treated participants discontinued treatment due to an adverse event, compared to 3.4 percent in the placebo group. Nonetheless, Molnupiravir’s safety will need to be established in a much larger cohort of patients. Participants were instructed to abstain from heterosexual sex or use contraception during the trial. While this is standard practice for some other medications, such as cancer chemotherapy, it suggests that molnupiravir may cause birth defects in pregnant women.

7. What about Molnupiravir Supply?

Merck anticipates producing 10 million treatment courses by the end of 2021, with additional doses planned for 2022. In June, the drugmaker agreed to a $1.2 billion supply deal with the US government under which it would supply 1.7 million courses of the treatment once the drug received emergency use authorization or approval from the FDA. Merck also has agreements with other governments that are pending regulatory approval.

For example, Australia placed an order for 300,000 doses. Merck says it will use a tiered pricing structure based on World Bank country income criteria to reflect countries’ relative ability to finance a pandemic-related health response.

In April, the pharmaceutical company announced voluntary licensing agreements with generic oral drug manufacturers in India to expedite the availability of Molnupiravir in more than 100 low- and middle-income countries as soon as the medication receives necessary approvals.

8. Is it Going to Eliminate the Need for Vaccines?

Molnupiravir Intake as the First Antivral Oral Drug versus Covid
Molnupiravir Intake as the First Antivral Oral Drug versus Covid

No. Vaccination continues to be the most effective method of protection against Covid-19. Even in highly vaccinated populations, Covid-19 cases continue to occur, indicating that antiviral therapies will be critical in limiting the disease’s severity, particularly in the elderly and those with weakened immune systems for whom vaccination is less effective.

The best way to combat this disease is to avoid infection in the first place. Social and public health interventions, such as wearing face masks and maintaining physical distance, remain critical for preventing virus transmission and putting an end to Covid epidemics.

9. Is Merck the Only Pharmaceutical Company Developing an Antiviral Pill for COVID?

No. Other pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, are expected to report clinical trial results in the coming months.

Get Vaccinated and Stay Safe

What public needs to know more than never is that there is no efficient medication yet to counter the virus. Hence, getting vaccinated is essentially the topmost health protocol the public should take. As few medical facilities and companies are on their way towards discovering and testing new medical breakthroughs such as the nasal sprays and the first oral drug against COVID-19, public should find a way to access the initial vaccination for better safeguard during this trying times.

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