Molnopiravir, the first pill designed to treat symptomatic Covid and the first oral treatment, developed by the US drug companies Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, has been approved by the UK medicines regulator. The new treatment targets an enzyme that the virus uses to make copies of itself, introducing errors into its genetic code. The pill will be given twice a day to vulnerable patients recently diagnosed with the Covid-19 disease. It can be administered outside of a hospital. The drug needs to be given within five days of symptoms developing to be most effective. “Today is a historic day for our country, as the UK is now the first country in the world to approve an antiviral that can be taken at home for Covid,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. The UK has agreed to purchase 480,000 courses with the first deliveries expected in November. Initially it will be given to both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients through a national study.
Merck anticipated that molnopiravir will be effective as news variants of the virus will develop in the future. The UK recorded 41,229 Covid cases on Wednesday and 217 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. Earlier clinical trials of molnupiravir proved there were no deaths in the molnupiravir group. Data suggest molnupiravir needs to be taken soon after symptoms develop to have an effect. The UK government has not disclosed how much its initial contract for 480,000 courses of molnupiravir is worth. Pfizer and Swiss company Roche is working on a similar medication.