The UK said Wednesday that it reached agreements for two antiviral pills against COVID-19, one developed by Merck and the other by Pfizer, which it said, could be used to treat patients by the end of the year if regulatory approval is granted.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has removed nearly all coronavirus-related restrictions and is turning to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to try to withstand the pressure winter puts on hospitals, given the high number of cases with more than 40 thousand new infections a day.
“We may soon have a new defense in our arsenal with two new antiviral drugs that we have come up with,” Health Minister Sajid Javid said in a statement.
The United Kingdom reported that it had obtained 480 thousand doses of Merck’s molnupiravir, an antiviral pill that can be used in outpatients.
The drug reduced the rate of hospitalization and death by 50% in patients with mild or moderate illnesses who had at least one risk factor for the disease, according to trial data published earlier this month.
If approved, molnupiravir, which Merck is developing with partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, could become the first oral antiviral drug for COVID-19.
Pfizer is also rushing to develop an easy-to-administer antiviral pill against COVID-19, and last month began a large-scale study of its investigational oral antiviral drug for prevention in people exposed to the virus.
In the trial, PF-07321332, designed to block the activity of a key enzyme necessary for the coronavirus to multiply, will be given in conjunction with a low-dose ritonavir, an older drug widely used in combination treatments for infection with HIV
The UK said it had obtained 250,000 doses of the antiviral PF-07321332 / ritonavir.
Pricing for either order has not been disclosed. Both Merck and Pfizer antivirals will need the approval of the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before being used, the government said.
A national study will also be created to gather more data on the effectiveness of antivirals, he added.