The UK's medicines regulator approved an oral antiviral medication for Covid. This approval opens the door to thousands of vulnerable patients who will be able to access the treatment this winter.
The delivery of nearly half a million doses molnupiravir (a pill that can easily be taken at home twice daily) is expected to begin in mid-November. It will be available as a priority for elderly Covid patients as well as those with special vulnerabilities such as weak immune systems. Initial distribution of the drug will be through a NHS-run national study.
Professor Peter Horby, co-leader of the University of Oxford's groundbreaking Recovery trial of Covid treatments, stated that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency's (MHRA), decision was very welcome and a turning point in the fight against the pandemic.
Thursday's MHRA report stated that Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) had developed a drug to reduce the risk of death and hospitalisation in patients with mild or moderate Covid, who are at greater risk for developing severe diseases.
Sajid Javid (Health Secretary) said that the UK was the first country to approve an antiviral which can be taken home for Covid-19. This groundbreaking treatment will make a significant difference for those most at risk and immunosuppressed.
After a trial in the US, No 10 announced last month a deal to purchase 480,000 doses molnupiravir. The pills, also known by Lagevrio were found to reduce the risk of death or hospitalisation for high-risk patients. The first delivery will be made no later than mid-November.
Molnupiravir blocks the virus' ability to reproduce, which means it is less likely to spread and cause severe illness. The MHRA recommends that the drug be administered as soon as possible following a positive Covid test and within five days after symptoms appear.
This drug is approved to treat mild to moderate Covid, as well as people who have at least one risk factor of developing severe illness such heart disease, obesity, diabetes mellitus or are older than 60.
After a thorough review of all data by our experts scientists and clinicians, we have determined that Lagevrio [molnupiravir] has been proven safe and effective for people at high risk of severe Covid-19 disease. We have approved it, stated Dr June Raine.
Another therapeutic option to combat Covid-19 is Lagevrio. This antiviral is the first to be approved for this disease and can be taken orally. It is important that it can be administered outside a hospital setting before Covid-19 has advanced to a severe stage.
Horby stated that the approval of an oral antiviral treatment for Covid-19 was a significant scientific achievement. It feels like a momentous watershed. It is to be commended that the MHRA has once again acted quickly to ensure that the UK population has access to proven benefits.
However, there is still much to be done. We need to ensure access and affordability, avoid drug resistance, and see if the drug can benefit other patient populations, like those who are hospitalized with Covid-19.