The UK has become the first country to approve an anti-viral pill for the treatment of COVID-19. The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has approved the use of molnupiravir, the first oral antiviral treatment to be approved that can be taken at home.
"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," Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement. He described it as a "game-changer" for the frail and immunosuppressed.
The pill is most effective when taken during the early stages of infection. Interim trial results published last month have shown that the treatment halves death and hospitalization risk in patients, making it a vital tool in the treatment of the disease.
The MHRA has authorized molnupiravir – also known as Lagevrio – to be used in people who develop mild to moderate COVID-19 and have at least one risk factor such as obesity, older age (>60 years), diabetes mellitus, or heart disease. These and other factors might lead to more serious health outcomes and the pill appears to effectively prevent those.
“Following a rigorous review of the data by our expert scientists and clinicians, we are satisfied that Lagevrio (molnupiravir) is safe and effective for those at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease and have granted its approval” Dr June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive, said in a statement.
The agency recommends the use of the pill as soon as possible once an at-risk person tests positive for COVID-19 and within five days of the onset of symptoms. The UK is said to have bought 480,000 courses of molnupiravir to be delivered over the next few weeks.
The drug was created at Emory University and is developed by Ridgeback Biotherapeutic and Merck. Merck recently made the important decision to share the patent with the Medicine Patent Pool (MPP), a United Nations-backed public health organization, as long as COVID-19 is a public health emergency. This will allow the production of molnupiravir in 105 low- and middle-income countries at a fraction of the cost, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives.