Drugmaker Merck asked federal health officials Monday to greenlight its experimental pill against COVID-19, molnupiravir, for emergency use. The drug is said to treat mild-to-moderate cases of the virus in adults who are most at risk for progressing to more severe cases or being hospitalized. A decision could come in a matter of weeks. It would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19. Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said early results showed patients who received the drug within five days of COVID-19 symptoms had about half the rate of hospitalization and death as those who received a dummy pill. The U.S. government has committed to purchasing enough pills to treat 1.7 million people, assuming the FDA authorizes the drug.
“At the interim analysis, molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by approximately 50%; 7.3% of patients who received molnupiravir were either hospitalized or died through Day 29 following randomization, compared with 14.1% of placebo-treated patients,” the company said in a statement. Merck expects to produce 10 million courses of treatment by the end of 2021. At a White House Covid-19 briefing last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the trial results “very encouraging.”