Molnupiravir, made by Merck and a Florida-based biotech called Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, is the first oral antiviral medicine available to treat covid-19. The approval marks another milestone in the world’s fight against covid-19.
Molnupiravir (MK-4482, EIDD-2801), developed initially to treat influenza, has been repurposed to treat COVID-19 patients. It interferes with the replication of SARS-CoV-2, thereby reducing severity of disease. Drugs in the same class as molnupiravir have been linked to birth defects in animal studies. Merck, known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, has said animal testing shows that molnupiravir is safe, but the data have not yet been made public.
It is most effective when used early; the UK has recommended its use as soon as possible following a positive test and within five days of symptoms onset.
Merck expects to produce 10 million courses by the end of 2021. Merck, which already struck advance purchase agreements, will supply approximately 1.7 million courses to the US government. Britain has secured 480,000 courses of molnupiravir, and sales of the drug are already brisk. America, Australia, Britain, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are some of the countries that have secured deals, or are in the process of doing so.
According to an article in Nature magazine, based on the US purchase, the cost of a five-day course works out to $700. Other countries are also working quickly to approve the new medicine, which has provoked keen interest. Last month, the interim results of a trial found that patients with a risk factor for covid-19 were 50% less likely to be hospitalized or die if the oral antiviral was taken in the first five days after symptoms.