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Merck’s Covid pill approved by UK regulator, a potential game-changer in fighting the pandemic

The Merck logo is seen at a gate to the Merck & Co campus in Rahway, New Jersey, U.S., July 12, 2018.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

LONDON — An antiviral pill found to be effective at treating Covid-19 has been approved by Britain’s medicines regulator Thursday in a potentially game-changing way of treating the virus.

Britain’s medicines regulator said it had approved the world’s first antiviral oral pill, known as molnupiravir, having found it to be “safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death in people with mild to moderate Covid-19 who are at increased risk of developing severe disease.”

The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said the decision “follows a rigorous review of its safety, quality and effectiveness” and made it the “first oral antiviral for the treatment of Covid-19 to be approved.”

Developed jointly by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck Sharp & Dohme, the pill works by interfering with the virus’ replication. This prevents it from multiplying, keeping virus levels low in the body and therefore reducing the severity of the disease, the MHRA said.

Based on the clinical trial data, the oral pill is most effective when taken during the early stages of infection. As such, the British regulator recommended its use as soon as possible following a positive Covid test and within five days of the onset of symptoms.

The antiviral pill has been authorized for use in people who have mild to moderate Covid and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness, such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, or heart disease and anyone over the age of 60.

Britain is the first country to approve the drug.

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