US- On Friday, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced the development of its latest drug. ‘Paxlovid’ is an antiviral drug that has been under study and clinical trials for about two years now. Pfizer’s covid pill comes only days after the British health regulators approved Merck Sharp and Dohme’s (MSD) antiviral pill ‘mulnopiravir’ for use by the general public.
Both drugs are important assets, along with vaccines, to aid the world in overcoming the COVID crisis. Over 5 million people have died from the disease globally since the onset of the pandemic.
Vaccinations are helping to lower the numbers too but these drugs will be, in the words of President Biden, “another tool in the toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID”.
Highly Potent Drug
Pfizer’s COVID pills are more effective than Merck Inc.’s’ mulnopiravir’. It is to be taken in combination with the anti-viral prescribed for HIV patients, known as ‘ritonavir’. This makes Pfizer’s pill last longer in the body of a COVID patient.
According to the trials conducted by Pfizer, the pills are most effective when the patient starts consuming the tablets within three days of symptom onset. As of now, the recommended dosage is three pills taken twice a day.
Mulnopiravir Vs. Paxlovid
Pfizer’s COVID pill can reduce up to 89% risk of hospitalization and death. This was tested for adults who are at a greater risk of contracting the disease, such as the elderly or those with health issues like obesity or type 2 diabetes.
On the other hand, Merck’s COVID pill has been tested to reduce the risk of hospitalization to half. Therefore, as soon as the statistics for Pfizer’s drug were announced in the media, Pfizer’s global shares escalated to $48.61, a rise of 11%, in contrast to a plunge of 10% in Merck’s shares which closed at $81.61.
The Pfizer pill works as a protease inhibitor, meaning that it stops the virus from multiplying. Merck pill is different as it attacks the genetic code of the virus and introduces changes to it.
One thing to note is that both drug companies have not published their full trial data. Dr. John Sanders, chief of infectious diseases at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, North Carolina, wrote in an email to NBC News that it is important for external experts to study the data obtained in the trials, however even with the limited data released, the results are ” remarkable”.
And that “The availability of an oral antiviral that can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk patients by 89 percent will have a major impact on how we treat Covid-19″.
Statistical Trial Results
The results are so overwhelmingly good that Pfizer has stopped the testing of the pills early. The trials were conducted on a group of 1219 high-risk patients affected by the virus. Only 0.8% of the patients treated with Pfizer’s pills were hospitalized in comparison to the 7% hospitalization rate of the patients that were given the placebo (dummy pill).
More importantly, no patients treated with paxlovid died. Unfortunately, 7 deaths occurred amongst the patients who were given the placebo.
“These drugs are”, according to Dr. Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, “potentially marking a new era in our ability to prevent the severe consequences of Sars-CoV2 [coronavirus] infection, and is also a vital element for the care of clinically vulnerable people who may be unable to either receive or respond to vaccines”.
The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved either Merck or Pfizer pills. It will hold a meeting with Merck officials on November 30th. Pfizer has planned to submit its trial data to the FDA before November 25th, so that it can come into public use by early next year.
Although the FDA approval process is ongoing, the Biden administration has bought millions of doses of Pfizer’s pills. The UK has already bought 250,000 courses of Pfizer’s pills and 480,000 courses of Merck’s pills.
The use of vaccines and these pills will be an effective way to overcome the devastating impact that COVID has created. All the public needs to do is to stay at a safe social distance, wear masks and follow the government’s lead.