Israel says it is working to secure a supply of the breakthrough antiviral pill Merck COVID-19
Israel is said to be in talks with Merck over the potential supply of its experimental COVID-19 pill, which cuts hospitalizations and deaths in half.
The government has asked the pharmaceutical giant to provide “an appropriate amount” of the drug if the pill is approved by foreign regulators, Channel 13 reported on Tuesday.
If allowed, it would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett mentioned the potential breakthrough drug at Sunday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting, according to the report, and said that even though it was expensive, with the regimen costing around $ 800 per patient, Israel would strive to secure supplies if its use was authorized. .
Merck said it could produce pills for 10 million patients by the end of the year and had contracts with governments around the world.
The U.S. government has committed to purchasing enough pills to treat 1.7 million people, assuming the U.S. Food and Drug Administration clears the drug.
Merck said last week that it will soon be asking health authorities in the United States and around the world to authorize the use of the pill. An FDA decision could come a few weeks after that, and the drug, if cleared, could be released quickly soon after.
All other COVID-19 treatments now authorized by the United States require an intravenous or injection. A pill taken at home, on the other hand, would ease the pressure on hospitals and could also help curb epidemics in the poorest and most remote corners of the world that lack access to the most expensive infusion therapy.
Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said initial results showed that patients who received the drug, molnupiravir, within five days of COVID-19 symptoms had about half the hospitalization and death rate they those who received a dummy pill.
The study followed 775 adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who were considered at high risk for serious illness due to health conditions such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. The results were not reviewed by external experts, the usual procedure for monitoring new medical research.
Of the patients taking molnupiravir, 7.3% were either hospitalized or died within 30 days, compared with 14.1% of those receiving the dummy pill. After that period, there were no deaths among those who received the drug, compared to eight in the placebo group, according to Merck.
The results were so strong that an independent group of medical experts overseeing the trial recommended stopping it early.
Even with the announcement of a potentially effective new treatment, experts have stressed the importance of vaccines in controlling the pandemic, as they help prevent transmission and reduce the severity of the disease in those who are infected. .
Merck has only studied its drug in unvaccinated people. But FDA regulators may consider clearing it for wider use in vaccinated patients who show groundbreaking COVID-19 symptoms.
Patients take four molnupiravir tablets twice a day for five days. Side effects were reported by both groups in the Merck trial, but they were slightly more common in those who received a dummy pill. The company did not specify the problems.
The results of previous studies have shown that the drug did not benefit patients already hospitalized with serious illness. This is not surprising, given that antiviral drugs are most effective when used before the virus takes hold in the body.
The United States has approved an antiviral drug, remdesivir, for COVID-19, and has authorized the emergency use of three antibody therapies that help the immune system fight off the virus. But all drugs are expensive and have to be given intravenously or by injection in hospitals or clinics, and stocks have been depleted by the latest wave of the Delta variant.
Antibody-based drugs have been shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by about 70% when given to high-risk patients, about 20 percentage points more than the Merck pill. But experts cautioned against comparing the results of the two, given the preliminary nature of Merck’s data.
Several other companies, including Pfizer and Roche, are studying similar drugs and may publish results in the weeks and months to come.