CORONAVIRUS NEWS

​​What is Merck's new covid-19 pill? How does it work?

The pharmaceutical company Merck has submitted a new drug, molnupiravir, to the FDA for emergency use authorization for the treatment of covid-19.

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​​What is Merck's new covid-19 pill? How does it work?
MERCK & CO INC via REUTERS

A new breakthrough treatment in the fight against covid-19 has been submitted for emergency use authorization in the United States: molnupiravir.

In announcing their application to the Food and Drug Administration, Merck wrote that the pill was intended “for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults who are at risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization.”

How does the medication work?

Molnupiravir, developed by Merck, is a pill, that if approved, could be prescribed to those who test positive for the virus to prevent severe infection. The pill is taken after a patient begins experiencing symptoms and works by blocking the virus’s ability to replicate.

The drug works by interrupting the virus’ genetic replication process. The drug causes the virus to replicate with mutations that are full of proteins that then limit further replication. Merck says that the drug can help to limit transmission of the virus as it prevents the patient from creating a higher viral load.

How effective is it at limiting severe infection?

Evidence during the clinical trials showed that the medication was able to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by fifty percent.

How many units of the medication will be created?

If approved, Merck is prepared to produce ten million units by the end of 2021, with millions more planned in 2022. Merck has reported that it has signed an agreement with the US government saying that should the medication be approved for emergency use, they will provide 1.7 million units.

How does this treatment differ from monoclonal antibodies?

Until molnupiravir is approved, the most effective treatment for covid-19 are monoclonal antibodies. However, the production of this treatment is much more intensive, compared to the Merck drug. To develop and produce antibody treatments is an intensive process, and with such a limited number of suppliers, they can be exhausted quickly during surges of the virus.

In late September, Dr. Christian Ramers of the Family Health Centers of San Diego told an NBC affiliate that they were because of the high rate of hospitalizations in the South, shortages were being seen around the country.

Molnupiravir can be given to patients who begin to experience symptoms, thus limiting that chance their case becomes severe or requires hospitalization. With another drug available, the antibody shortages would be less likely to occur and they could be saved for more severe cases.