Pharmaceutical company Merck announced Friday that its experimental COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus.
The company said it would soon ask health officials in the U.S. and around the world to authorize its use.
Merck’s drug would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19, a potentially major advance in efforts to fight the pandemic.
Merk says 7.3% of patients who received the medicine, called molnupiravir, in an interim analysis were either hospitalized or died through Day 29 following randomization, compared with 14.1% of placebo-treated patients.
The trial for the pill looked at non-hospitalized adult patients with laboratory-confirmed mild to moderate COVID-19 who had at least one risk factor associated with poor disease outcomes and their symptoms started within five days of the randomization.
Merck says Molnupiravir is an investigational, orally administered form of a potent ribonucleoside analog that inhibits the replication of the COVID-19 virus. It’s been shown to be “active” in several preclinical models of the virus, including for prophylaxis, treatment, and prevention of transmission, according to Merk. The company says the pill has also been shown to be “active” against the most common variants.
The study was conducted globally, including in more than 170 planned sites in countries including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, France, Germany, Guatemala, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.
The most common risk factors for poor disease outcome included obesity, older age, diabetes mellitus, and heart disease, according to Merk.
An independent group of medical advisers monitoring the trial recommended stopping it early because the interim results were so strong.
However, the study results were released by the company and have not been peer-reviewed.
“With these compelling results, we are optimistic that molnupiravir can become an important medicine as part of the global effort to fight the pandemic and will add to Merck’s unique legacy of bringing forward breakthroughs in infectious diseases when they are needed most. Consistent with Merck’s unwavering commitment to save and improve lives, we will continue to work with regulatory agencies on our applications and do everything we can to bring molnupiravir to patients as quickly as possible,” said Merk’s CEO and president, Robert M. Davis, in a statement.