The worldwide trials tracked 775 people who had already contracted COVID, and who were thought to be at high risk from the disease given age or underlying conditions. Those who received the new drug, molnupiravir, were about half as likely to end up in the hospital or die as those who took a placebo in a span of 30 days. After that period, nobody who took Merck’s pill died, whereas several people from the placebo group did.
Merck will now seek emergency authorizaton from the FDA. If it succeeds — and analysts believe it will — molnupiravir would become the first oral antiviral treatment approved to fight COVID. The only other antiviral that has been approved, remdesivir, is administered intravenously and is generally reserved for cases that are already serious.
Needless to say, widespread availability of an effective pill that someone could take soon after testing positive for COVID would be a big development in the fight against the virus. How big may depend on molnupiravir’s cost and how easily it can be distributed around the world.