Merck asks US FDA to authorize promising anti-COVID pill

Washington, Oct. 11 (U.S.) – Pharmaceutical company Merck asked US regulators Monday to allow its own pill to treat COVID-19 in what would add an entirely new, easy-to-use weapon to the world’s arsenal against the pandemic.

If the FDA approves — a decision that could come within weeks — it would be the first pill to treat the disease. All other FDA-approved treatments for COVID-19 require an intravenous or syringe.

Antiviral pills that people can take at home to reduce their symptoms and speed recovery could prove groundbreaking, easing the crushing case burden on US hospitals and helping reduce outbreaks in poor countries with weak healthcare systems.

It will also advance a two-pronged approach to the pandemic: treatment with medication and prevention, primarily through vaccinations.

Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutic said they specifically asked the agency to grant emergency use to adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at risk of severe illness or hospitalization. This is roughly how COVID-19 infusion drugs are used.

“The value here is that it’s a pill, so you don’t have to deal with injection centers and all the factors around that,” said Dr. Nicholas Kartsonis, senior vice president in the infectious diseases unit at Merck. “I think it’s a very powerful tool to add to your toolbox.”

The company reported earlier this month that the contraceptive pill cut hospital admissions and deaths by half among patients who developed early symptoms of COVID-19. The results were so strong that independent medical experts monitoring the trial recommended stopping it early.

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