An oral Covid-19 pill developed by the American drugmaker Merck has been found to significantly reduce the risk of death and hospitalization in patients participating in a new clinical trial, according to the company’s data.

The company, which is developing the drug in partnership with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, reported that molnupiravir “reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by approximately 50%”.

It said that “7.3% of patients who received molnupiravir were either hospitalized or died through Day 29 following randomization… compared with 14.1% of placebo-treated patients. Through Day 29, no deaths were reported in patients who received molnupiravir, as compared to 8 deaths in patients who received placebo.”

The report is based on data involving 775 participants.

During the study, the participants took the drug every 12 hours for five days. All subjects involved in the trial had been diagnosed with mild-to-moderate Covid and had at least one factor that posed them at a greater risk of more serious forms of Covid, such as obesity or old age.

Due to its success, recruitment into the trial is being stopped early because of its positive results, at the recommendation of monitoring bodies. Merck said that it plans to submit an emergency authorization to the US Food and Drug Administration soon, as well as to other regulatory agencies worldwide.

Ridgeback CEO Wendy Holman praised the findings, stating that the drug could make a “profound impact in controlling the pandemic”, as “antiviral treatments that can be taken at home to keep people with Covid-19 out of the hospital are critically needed.” The capsule drug also “demonstrated consistent efficacy” across the Covid variants Gamma, Delta and Mu.

Pharma giant Pfizer said at the end of September that it was carrying out mid-to-late trial testing for its oral antiviral drug. First stages found that the drug was “safe and well-tolerated”.

In July, Jerusalem-based Oramed Pharmaceuticals said it had received approval to start clinical trials for a single-dose capsule version of a vaccine being developed by Indian firm Premas Biotech.

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