The UK medicines regulator has approved the first pill to treat patients with symptoms of Covid-19.
The drug, known as molnupiravir, is the first treatment of its kind to be approved. The UK is the first country in the world to give the drug the green light. Developed by US firms Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and Ridgeback Therapeutics, the drug is the first pill for Covid-19. Other antiviral treatments that have been approved by regulators are given intravenously.
Molnupiravir was originally developed to treat flu but studies suggested that it could be a highly effective treatment for Covid-19. Trials showed that taking the drug twice a day reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death by around 50%. Unlike other treatments, the pill can be taken at home, as well as in settings such as hospitals and care homes.
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, described the pill as a “gamechanger” for the most frail and vulnerable patients and said that the day the UK regulator approved the drug was “historic.”
The UK has now ordered 480,000 doses of the drug, with the first batches expected to arrive in November. The treatment will be provided for vulnerable and high-risk patients who develop symptoms. The drug must be given within five days of the individual experiencing symptoms to achieve the best outcomes.
At the moment, the UK is planning to provide the drug for both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients as part of a national study, which will give health bosses and ministers more data before placing additional orders. It is not yet known how the drug will be distributed but there are reports that GP surgeries and care homes could be provided with a supply to ensure that the frailest individuals can receive treatment quickly.
The drug works by targeting an enzyme, which the virus uses to create new copies of itself. As a result, there are errors in the genetic code, which prevent further replication, keeping the level of the virus in the body relatively low and symptoms mild.
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