On Thursday, Britain became the first country in the world to approve Molnupiravir, a potentially game-changing antiviral pill jointly developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to fight the pandemic.
“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-19,” said health minister Sajid Javid. “This will be a game-changer for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment,” he added.
According to clinical data, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK recommended using the drug molnupiravir after a positive COVID-19 test and within five days of the onset of symptoms.
Molnupiravir aims to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus that causes COVID-19, reducing the virus’s ability to replicate and thus slowing disease progression. Clinical trials show that the drug is most effective when taken during the early stages of infection. Therefore, it could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for those most at risk of developing severe COVID-19.
The government’s struggle to keep infection rates under control has accelerated acceptance in the United Kingdom. According to the most recent data, COVID-19 cases are estimated to be around 40,000 per day in the country. According to data released on Wednesday night, COVID-19 prevalence in England reached its highest level on record last month, driven by an increased number of cases in young kids and a surge in the country’s southwest.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) concluded that the drug is “safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death in people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at increased risk of developing severe disease” after conducting clinical trials.
This is the first time an oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19 has been approved, with validation in the United States on the way. US advisers will meet later this month to vote on whether molnupiravir should be supported.
MHRA chief executive June Raine called the pill “another therapeutic to add to our armory.”
“It is also the world’s first approved antiviral for this disease that can be taken by mouth rather than administered intravenously,” she added.
Vaccines have been the mainstay of treatment for the deadly virus, killing over 5.2 million people worldwide. Merck’s trial results announcement was hailed as a significant step toward that purpose. Other treatments, such as Gilead’s infused antiviral remdesivir and the generic steroid dexamethasone, are usually given only after a patient has been hospitalized.
However, experts warn that the treatment is not a miracle cure, and it is not intended to be used in place of vaccination against the virus. The British government and the National Health Service (NHS) will confirm how the treatment will be delivered to patients in “due course.”
“We are working at pace across the government and with the NHS to set out plans to deploy molnupiravir to patients through a national study as soon as possible,” UK’s health secretary said in a statement.