The U.K. is the first country in the world to approve use of the new antiviral drug molnupiravir developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
“Molnupiravir has been authorized for use in people who have mild to moderate COVID-19 and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness,” U.K. regulator Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said Thursday.
The drug was shown to halve the risk of hospitalization or death in recent studies. U.K. rollout begins later this month, with the pill to be given “as soon as possible following a positive COVID-19 test and within five days of symptoms onset,” MHRA said.
How does it work? “The virus essentially mutates itself to death,” Richard Plemper, a virologist involved in developing molnupiravir, told Nature. The drug mimics the RNA by which the coronavirus reproduces, introducing mutations that kill the viral population.
The U.S. could be next. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee will discuss emergency use authorization at a November 31 meeting.
The development is “extremely important”—but vaccines are still the best defense, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. (So, get vaccinated if you haven’t already!)
It’s also an example of the importance of America’s pharmaceutical innovation ecosystem—and The Bayh-Dole Act, which helped bring the discovery from science in the lab at Emory University, to further development and clinical trials thanks to the partnership between Merck and Ridgeback, as we explained.
Meanwhile, another antiviral could be coming soon. Pfizer announced Friday that their antiviral pill, PAXLOVID, showed 89% efficiency in preventing hospitalization and death. Pfizer will request emergency use authorization with the FDA soon.