Merck Seeks Approval For Experimental COVID-19 Pill

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Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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Pharmaceutical giant Merck said in a release Friday its experimental pill developed to treat COVID-19 was so successful that its Phase 3 clinical trial was halted early.

The oral antiviral pill Molnupiravir reduced the rate of hospitalization and death by half in unvaccinated COVID-19 patients with at least one high-risk factor for the virus compared to a placebo group, the company said. There were zero deaths in the group that received the five-day, twice-daily regimen of Molnupiravir after becoming infected, compared to eight deaths in the placebo group. There were 775 enrollees in the trial before an independent safety board recommended it be halted due to the strong evidence.

Merck said it will seek Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from U.S. regulators as soon as possible. The antiviral pill would be the first of its kind approved to treat COVID-19. There have been few effective therapeutics used to fight the coronavirus pandemic thus far, with vaccination proving to be the strongest protection against hospitalization and death, and monoclonal antibody treatments offering a strong treatment option for those infected.

Merck said it will produce 10 million courses Molnupiravir pills by the end of the year, and the U.S. government has already preordered 1.7 million of them at a cost of $1.2 billion. The treatment could be most needed in developing countries, which currently lack sufficient vaccine supply and may not reliably have the infrastructure needed to administer monoclonal antibodies. (RELATED: Medical Experts Are Unsure Why Biden Thinks 98% Of Americans Need To Be Vaccinated)

Pricing of the drug will be dependent on the ability of the country in question to pay for it, Merck said. The company has also licensed the pill to five generic drug manufacturers in India to speed up production.