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Merck’s Antiviral Pill Reduces the Risk Hospitalization and Death

An experimental antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co. reduced hospitalization and death by half for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19.

The pill, molnupiravir, is taken at home would ease pressure on hospitals and could also curb outbreaks in poorer and more remote corners of the world that don’t have access to the more expensive infusion therapies.

Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said early results showed patients who received the drug, within five days of COVID-19 symptoms had about half the rate of hospitalization and death as those who received a dummy pill.

“An oral antiviral that can impact hospitalization risk to such a degree would be game-changing,” said Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered high risk for severe disease because of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. The results have not been reviewed by outside experts, the usual procedure for vetting new medical research.

The company said it will soon ask health officials in the US and around the world to authorize the pill’s use. A decision from the US Food and Drug Administration could come within weeks after that, and the drug, if approved, could be distributed quickly soon afterward.