COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19: U.K. greenlights Merck antiviral pill ‘molnupiravir’

Published : November 05, 2021 16:04 IST

Molnupiravir is the first pill found to be effective against the virus. Photo: Merck & Co Inc/REUTERS

The oral pill is the first to have successfully treated COVID-19. However, it is not clear when it will be available.

The U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved on November 4 the use of a coronavirus treatment manufactured by U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. The MHRA said the pill is "safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death in people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at increased risk of developing severe disease."

'Historic day' for the U.K.

The U.K. is the first country to greenlight the pill for coronavirus treatment. The pill, known as molnupiravir, has been found to reduce symptoms and speed up recovery in coronavirus patients. Health Secretary Sajid Javid called the government's approval of the drug a "historic day for our country."

"This will be a gamechanger for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment," Javid said in a statement. The pill will be branded under the name Lagevrio in the U.K. Last month, the U.K. said it had managed to secure 480,000 courses of the drug.

E.U. wants to accelerate review process

Regulators in the E.U. and U.S. are also reviewing the medication. On November 4, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it would try to accelerate the review process for approving the drug launched last week. "We will try to speed up our assessment in order to reach an authorization as soon as possible," the EMA's head of vaccine strategy Marco Cavaleri told a news conference, without specifying a timeline.

Cavaleri added that the EMA was ready to advise E.U. countries in order to make the drug available for emergency use ahead of official authorization. "Because we are already in the fourth wave of this pandemic, we will be considering whether a scientific opinion from the EMA could support emergency use authorization at the level of each member state," he added.

Merck: 10 million courses to be produced by end of year

Merck has said it will be able to produce 10 million courses of treatment by the end of this year. Developing countries that have not yet been able to procure sufficient doses of vaccines may find the drug especially useful. The treatment could help alleviate the pressure on hospitals and curb outbreaks of the virus in poor nations. The company has previously said it has entered into licensing agreements with Indian generic manufacturers to help make molnupiravir available in over 100 low- and middle-income countries.

wmr,wd/rt (AP, Reuters, dpa)