Covid: Pfizer’s new pill cuts hospitalisation or death by 89%, trial shows

·3-min read

An experimental pill for Covid-19 has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death by 89 per cent in vulnerable adults, Pfizer has announced.

The drug, named Paxlovid, consists of three pills given twice daily.

Pfizer studied 1,219 high-risk patients who had recently been infected and found that only 0.8 per cent of those given the drug were hospitalised. Meanwhile, patients who took the placebo had a hospitalisation rate of 7 per cent.

Seven patients who took the placebo died but there were no deaths in the group given the pill.

"We were hoping that we had something extraordinary, but it’s rare that you see great drugs come through with almost 90 per cent efficacy and 100 per cent protection for death," said Dr Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer.

It comes after Health Secretary Sajid Javid revealed on Thursday that anti-viral pill Lagevrio, also known as Molnupiravir, had been approved for use in the NHS.

The UK Government has secured 480,000 courses of the oral pill. It has proven in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for at-risk adults with mild to moderate Covid-19 by 50 per cent.

Capsules of the experimental antiviral drug Molnupiravir (Merck & Co,Inc./AFP via Getty Im)
Capsules of the experimental antiviral drug Molnupiravir (Merck & Co,Inc./AFP via Getty Im)

"These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalizations," Pfizer said in a statement.

Study participants were unvaccinated, with mild-to-moderate Covid-19, and were considered high risk for hospital admission due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease.

Treatment began within three to five days of initial symptoms, and lasted for five days.

Pfizer reported few details on side effects but said rates of problems were similar between the groups at about 20%.

An independent group of medical experts monitoring the trial recommended stopping it early due to the strength of the results.

Top US health officials continue to stress that vaccination will remain the best way to protect against infection.

But with tens of millions of adults still unvaccinated - and many more globally - effective, easy-to-use treatments will be critical to curbing future waves of infections.

The FDA has set a public meeting later this month to review Merck’s pill, known as molnupiravir.

The company reported in September that its drug cut rates of hospital admission and death by 50 per cent.

Experts warn against comparing preliminary results because of differences in studies.

Although Merck’s pill is further along in the US regulatory process, Pfizer’s drug could benefit from a safety profile that is more familiar to regulators with fewer red flags.

While pregnant women were excluded from the Merck trial due to a potential risk of birth defects, Pfizer’s drug did not have any similar restrictions.

The Merck drug works by interfering with the coronavirus’s genetic code, a novel approach to disrupting the virus.

Pfizer’s drug is part of a decades-old family of antiviral drugs known as protease inhibitors, which revolutionised the treatment of HIV and hepatitis C.

The drugs block a key enzyme which viruses need to multiply in the human body.

The drug was first identified during the Sars outbreak originating in Asia during 2003.

Last year, company researchers decided to revive the medication and study it for Covid-19, given the similarities between the two coronaviruses.

The US has approved one other antiviral drug for Covid-19, remdesivir, and authorised three antibody therapies that help the immune system fight the virus.

But they have to be given by IV or injection at hospitals or clinics, and limited supplies were strained by the last surge of the Delta variant.

Shares of Pfizer spiked more than 9 per cent before the opening bell on Friday.

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