Molnupiravir: First anti-viral pill to treat Covid-19 approved in the UK

·3-min read
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)

The first oral medicine for the treatment of Covid-19 has been approved for use in the NHS.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday the anti-viral pill Lagevrio, also known as Molnupiravir, which can be taken at home, would be a “game changer” for older people and those more at risk from Covid.

However it will only be available in the first instance to people signing up to a national trial, and may not be more widely available on the NHS until the New Year.

The UK Government has secured 480,000 courses. 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.

Molnupiravir is for people who have had a positive Covid test and have at least one risk factor for developing severe illness, such as obesity, being over the age of 60, diabetes or heart disease.

Mr Javid said: “Today is a historic day for our country, as the UK is now the first country in the world to approve an antiviral that can be taken at home for Covid-19.

“This will be a gamechanger for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed, who will soon be able to receive the ground-breaking treatment.”

The national trial, to be run by the National Institute for Health Research, will look to sign up volunteers who would then be given the pill - which is taken twice a day for five days - within five days of developing covid symptoms.

The wider availability on the NHS is likely to depend on how quickly people can be recruited to the trial and how quickly it reports its conclusions.

Trial participants are expected to be limited to people over 18 with compromised immune systems and adults over 50 with a risk factor to covid, such as obesity or diabetes.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the drug is safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospital admission and death in people with mild to moderate Covid who are at extra risk from the virus.

The drug, from Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), works by interfering with the virus’s replication.

This prevents it from multiplying, keeping virus levels low in the body and therefore reducing the severity of the disease.

The MHRA said the drug should be taken as soon as possible following a positive Covid-19 test and within the first five days.

Other antiviral treatments already exist but they have to be given intravenously in hospital and their use is restricted to the sickest patients.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England, said: “Once again the NHS will be able to lead the world in protecting millions from Covid-19 through both its world leading vaccination programme, and researching and implementing the latest Covid treatments, particularly as we head into one of the most challenging winters ever.

“The NHS stands ready to support the planned study on molnupiravir and other antivirals in patients at higher risk of complications, and to provide wider roll out if it is shown to be clinically and cost effective in reducing hospitalisations and death.”

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