Coronavirus: Pfizer says its antiviral pill is highly effective against COVID-19

Pfizer announced Friday that it will be seeking authorization for a new antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 that clinical trials showed to be highly effective among those who are at high risk from the virus.

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The pill, which is combined with ritonavir, which is an HIV drug, was shown to reduce hospitalizations or deaths from the COVID-19 virus by up to 89% among high-risk patients, Pfizer said in a news release.

News of the antiviral pill comes the same week as Merck announced it had developed an antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 in high-risk patients. According to Merck, the drug was 50% effective in preventing serious illness from the virus.

“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 10 hospitalizations,” Albert Bourla, chairman CEO of Pfizer, said in a statement.

Pfizer has not publish the full data from the clinical trial.

According to the company, the treatment could become available in the next few months. The New York Times reported that the U.S. government has been working with Pfizer to get enough pills for 1.7 million courses of treatment, with an additional option for 3.3 million, according to a senior administration official.

The government ordered the same amount of the Merck pill, the Times reported. The cost to the government is estimated at about $700 per treatment course for both drugs, the official told the Times.

The treatment course consist of 30 pills given over a five-day span, 10 of which would be ritonavir. It is not a substitute for a vaccination. The pills would be given after someone has contracted the virus.

Merck’s drug course would be similar, but would require 40 pills over five days. Merck announced this week that it is seeking emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Pfizer said it will be doing the same, soon. The drug is called Paxlovid.

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