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Merck Seeks FDA Authorization for Antiviral COVID-19 Pill

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Drugmaker Merck announced Monday that it submitted an application to the FDA for emergency use authorization of molnupiravir, an experimental antiviral COVID-19 treatment.

If the FDA grants authorization, the drug would be the first oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19. The capsule, made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, is intended to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults who are at risk of having severe COVID-19 or hospitalization.

“The extraordinary impact of this pandemic demands that we move with unprecedented urgency, and that is what our teams have done by submitting this application for molnupiravir to the FDA within 10 days of receiving the data,” Robert Davis, CEO and president of Merck, said in a statement.

On Oct. 1, Merck and Ridgeback released interim data from its phase III clinical trial, which showed that molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 50%. About 7% of patients who received the drug were hospitalized within 30 days in the study, as compared with 14% of patients who took a placebo, the company said.

No deaths were reported in the group that received the drug, as compared with eight deaths in the group that received the placebo. None of the trial participants had been vaccinated.

“Medicines and vaccines are both essential to our collective efforts,” Davis said. “We look forward to working with the FDA on its review of our application, and to working with other regulatory agencies as we do everything we can to bring molnupiravir to patients around the world as quickly as possible.”

Merck has been producing molnupiravir in anticipation of the clinical trial results and FDA authorization. The company expects to produce 10 million courses of treatment by the end of the year, with more expected for 2022.

In June, Merck signed an agreement with the U.S. to supply 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir once the FDA authorizes the drug. The company has agreed to advance purchase agreements with other countries as well.

Earlier in the year, Merck also announced voluntary licensing agreements with several generics manufacturers in India to provide molnupiravir to more than 100 low- and middle-income countries after approval from local regulatory agencies.

Data from the company’s late-stage clinical trial has not yet been peer-reviewed or published.

Last week, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the clinical trial results were “very encouraging” but noted that the FDA should closely scrutinize the drug, CNN reported.

“It is very important that this now must go through the usual process of careful examination of the data by the Food and Drug Administration, both for effectiveness but also for safety, because whenever you introduce a new compound, safety is very important,” Fauci said, adding that vaccines remain “our best tools against COVID-19.”

Sources

CNN: “Merck seeks FDA emergency use authorization for antiviral Covid-19 treatment molnupiravir.”

Merck: “Merck and Ridgeback Announce Submission of Emergency Use Authorization Application to the U.S. FDA for Molnupiravir, an Investigational Oral Antiviral Medicine, for the Treatment of Mild-to-Moderate COVID-19 in At Risk Adults,” “Merck and Ridgeback’s Investigational oral Antiviral Molnupiravir Reduced the Risk of Hospitalization or Death by Approximately 50 Percent Compared to Placebo for Patients with Mild or Moderate COVID-19 in Positive Interim Analysis of Phase 3 Study,” “Merck Announces Supply Agreement with U.S. Government for Molnupiravir, an Investigational Oral Antiviral Candidate for Treatment of Mild to Moderate COVID-19,” “Amid Humanitarian Crisis in India, Merck Announces Voluntary Licensing Agreements with Five Indian Generics Manufacturers to Accelerate and Expand Global Access to Molnupiravir, an Investigational Oral Therapeutic for the Treatment of COVID-19.”

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