Lim: Early Christmas?

·2 min read

The world’s first oral antiviral treatment for Covid-19 has just been authorized by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to treat mild-to-moderate Covid-19 in adults at risk for severe illness.

Manufactured by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, molnupiravir comes in capsule form and will be sold as Lagevrio.

The European Medicines Agency has initiated a rolling review of Merck’s marketing application. The Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee of the US Food and Drug Administration will convene on November 30 to discuss the drug’s safety and efficacy.

Before molnupiravir, the only drug approved for the treatment of Covid-19 was Gilead’s remdesivir, sold under the name, Veklury. But it could only be administered through intravenous infusion. The same problem plagued monoclonal antibody treatments authorized for emergency use.

The world has been waiting with bated breath for the arrival of a Covid-19 oral antiviral. And amazingly, less than 24 hours after news breaks about the world’s first authorized oral antiviral, another investigational Covid-19 oral antiviral emerges.

Like Merck’s mulnopiravir, Pfizer’s antiviral needs to be given early, within three to five days of onset of symptoms. But unlike mulnopiravir which cuts the rates of hospitalization and death of high-risk adults by 50 percent, Pfizer’s drug does it by nearly 90 percent.

The astonishing efficacy of its experimental oral antiviral has led Pfizer to decide to seek authorization from the FDA as well as other international regulatory agencies. If approved, it will be sold under the name, Paxlovid.

While Merck’s drug works by interfering with the coronavirus’ genetic code, Pfizer’s drug works by blocking an essential enzyme that SARS-CoV-2 needs to replicate. Pfizer’s Paxlovid is to be taken in combination with ritonavir, an antiviral drug used to treat HIV.

So, the world rejoices with the entry of oral antivirals, treatments are easier to administer. They can be done at home, given early and easily, preventing progression of the disease and easing the burden of the healthcare system.

Did Christmas come early this year?

While the world celebrates the emergence of two, promising oral antivirals for the treatment of Covid-19 early in the course of the disease, it’s important to note that treatments are not a substitute for vaccines.

Treatments augment, not replace vaccines. Treatments don’t prevent infection, at least for now. Treatments protect only the person receiving them. Vaccines protect everyone. Treatments cost. Vaccines are free, at least for now.

Did Christmas come early this year?

If more people come forward offering their arms for vaccination, Christmas will come early this year. Till then, hold the champagne.

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