U.K. authorizes Merck COVID-19 antiviral pill

The country is the first to authorise the drug, which is the first shown to successfully treat COVID-19.
Photograph by Cdc, Unsplash
By Amy McKeever
Published 5 Nov 2021, 11:13 GMT

On November 4, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to grant conditional authorisation to a Merck antiviral pill used to treat COVID-19. In clinical trials, the pill has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death in people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at risk of developing more severe disease. It is the first treatment of its kind found to be effective against SARS-CoV-2.

“This will be a game-changer for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment,” Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said in a statement.

As National Geographic has previously reported, the drug, called molnupiravir, works by interfering with the virus’s genome as it multiples, creating mutations that disrupt replication and ultimately kill the virus. In clinical trials, people who took four pills twice a day for five days within five days of showing symptoms of a COVID-19 infection were half as likely to be hospitalised as those who took the placebo.

The U.K. has authorised the pill for conditional use in adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 and at least one underlying condition that puts them at risk for more severe disease, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, as well as those who are older than 60.

Merck has also filed an application for emergency use authorisation of the drug in the United States. The application is under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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