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Britain becomes the first country to approve antiviral pill for COVID-19 treatment

The UK is now the first country to approve an antiviral pill that could possibly be “game-changing”. Developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, Molnupiravir is an oral pill that can be taken by those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have one or more risk factors for developing severe illness. These risk factors include diabetes, heart disease, obesity and being over 60. In this Pacific Prime UK article, we take a closer look at Molnupiravir and how it can potentially change the game.

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Molnupiravir shows promise

Based on promising trial results, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) deemed Molnupiravir as safe and effective at lowering the risk of hospitalisation and death in individuals with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at greater risk from the virus.

Merck’s new COVID-19 pill interferes with the virus’s replication to produce results. It inhibits the novel coronavirus from multiplying, maintaining low levels in the body. Ultimately, Molnupiravir reduces the severity of COVID-19.

If a person tests positive, they should take the COVID-19 pill as soon as possible. The MHRA advises taking it within the first five days.

A government announcement in October revealed that 480,000 courses of Molnupiravir had been secured following a study that showed it reduced hospitalisation and death rates by 50% in COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms.

The pill was given two times a day to patients who had recently been diagnosed. The trial results made it the first pill for COVID-19 with promising developments thus far.

A historic day for the UK

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said the drug’s approval is a “historic day” for the UK, as it is the first country to approve a COVID-19 antiviral pill that can be taken at home. He called the pill a “game-changer” for those who are most at risk and with suppressed immune systems, who will be able to receive the innovative treatment shortly.

He also said that the government and the NHS are “working at pace” to arrange plans to deploy Molnupiravir to patients via a national study as early as possible.

According to MHRA’s chief executive, Dr June Raine, the agency is “satisfied” with the new pill from Merck being stated as safe and effective for individuals at risk of developing severe COVID-19 illness and has been granted approval. She said that the pill is another treatment that can be used against the disease.

Additionally, it is the first pill for COVID-19 that can be taken orally instead of administered intravenously. This is significant because it allows for administration outside of hospitals before the coronavirus has advanced to a severe stage.

In the UK, an estimated 1.2 million people (1.9% of the population) in private homes reported experiencing long COVID in the first month as of October 2nd, 2021.

Moving forward

The approval of the COVID-19 pill could be an important moment. Molnupiravir is both easy to take and can be done outside of a hospital setting. If the trial’s findings are correct, it could significantly reduce the number of individuals with COVID-19 who end up being admitted to the hospital.

As we move into the winter months, an effective solution could help alleviate the burden on the NHS. However, there are still many questions that have yet to be answered. At present, we don’t know when and how Molnupiravir will be given to patients. The UK has already purchased 480,000 courses. Since daily infection numbers currently exceed 30,000, many wonder how long it’ll be before the supply is finished.

Cost is another concern that has yet to be discussed. The public is waiting to find out how much the government has paid for Molnupiravir. Molnupiravir costs around GBP £520 in the US, making it costly enough that many countries with lower incomes may not be able to afford it.

Are vaccines still necessary?

The approval of Molnupiravir doesn’t mean that vaccines are no longer required. Instead, it’s best to think of the pill as one more tool in the toolbox to combat COVID-19 and one that will be used for cases that are moderate to mild in nature.

Molnupiravir (branded Lagevrio in the UK) will become available for those who develop symptoms in home settings shortly. As previously mentioned, it will only be available for those with immunodeficiencies, over 60, or with other risk factors that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

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Content Creator at Pacific Prime UK
​​Jantra Jacobs is a content writer at Pacific Prime. On a typical workday, she writes and edits articles, guides, and anything else word-related. She loves creating content that is both easy to understand and enjoyable to read.

In her free time, she’s likely to be writing poetry and prose, geeking out on her latest interests, reading, or practicing yoga.